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Superman. This image is from an old Fleisher S...

A while back I posted on the advantages of invisibility as opposed to flight and determined that, while flying is inherently more fun, invisibility has the advantage of being a less noticeable power, the kind of power you could have and use without broadcasting to the world that you had it.

Today, following the same theme, I would like to recognize 10 other “soft” powers, that often get overlooked.  Characters with these superpowers don’t usually turn into famous superheros like Superman, Mister Fantastic or Captain America.  Movies and television often ignore these powers because they’re hard to show without cheesy special effects.  And by themselves, some of these powers aren’t even enough to really set the characters who have them apart from everyone else, but they’re still worth a mention.

1. Clairvoyance: the ability to see through objects to the things behind them.  Superman happens to be clairvoyant, although this power is naturally overshadowed by his strength and his flight, but other than him, I can’t think if any famous characters who have this power.  Which, I must say, is a bit of a relief.  I know that some people get creeped out at the idea of invisibility, but for me, it’s clairvoyance that’s really scary.  I can think of ways that a good person might want to use this power (looking for something they lost… searching out ways to defeat the “bad guys”) but really, in everyday life, and for somebody with less honor than Superman, the most common uses of this power might be… um… ungentlemanly, to put it nicely.  Definitely, it’s a power to beware of.

2. The ability to breathe underwater.  Maybe this power isn’t super “useful” for most people, but in terms of “fun,” I would rate it only slightly lower than flying, because swimming underwater really is the equivalent of “flying” through another medium, and to be able to do it uninterrupted, and without heavy, expensive scuba gear, would be awesome.

3. The gift of tongues.  A few weeks ago, when asked what super power he wanted the most, President Obama picked this one, the ability to automatically speak and understand the language of any country he happened to be in.  This is not a political blog, so I have absolutely nothing to say about whether I agree or disagree with the President on any matter of real life importance, but I will say that I agree with him completely on this point.  It would be wonderful to understand other languages well without having to spend so much time studying for each one. There’s no way for me to learn everything I want to about languages in my lifetime, but if I had this power then maybe there would be.

4. The ability to withstand a wider range of temperatures than humans normally can.  I mean, what if you could swim through freezing water, or walk through a fire, and feel fine afterward?  This power would be so useful to me in the winter, when it seems like I can never wear enough clothes to get warm outside.

5. Mind reading.  Who doesn’t want to know what other people are thinking about them, or what other people want, or know for sure when someone is lying?  I know I do.  Although this power isn’t noticeable  I think it’s at least as big, and probably bigger, than a lot of the “important” powers some superheros have.  I admit that having that much power over everybody else is also a bit creepy (a villain who had it would be almost impossible to stop), but unlike clairvoyance, I think that in a lot of cases it might actually bring out the good in people who had it.  If you could really understand people and experience their thoughts you might start wanting to help them more, or at least have a harder time being mean to them.

6. Prophecy.  This one’s similar to mind reading in some cases, in terms of the things it lets you do, but it’s a little bit cooler than mind reading because it lets you anticipate some things that people’s thoughts just don’t tell you, like the weather, or what’s going to happen to the stock market.  Pretty useful, I would say.

7. Agelessness and Immortality.  These are not the same thing.  Agelessness means you don’t get old, but are still able to die, somewhat like elves in the Lord of the Rings, and immortality just means you’ll never die, not that you won’t continue getting older forever.  Right now, I’m talking about both powers together.  This would definitely qualify as a soft power, because it would usually take a while before people suspected you had it, and it does have plenty of advantages, though as I mentioned in my post on Neverland, agelessness has its downsides if it keeps you from knowing the joys of maturity.  And immortality has its own downsides, since you’d have to see all the mortals you loved grow old and die around you, so unless you had some other immortal friends to hang out with and mostly isolated yourself from all the normal people, it might not be very fun.

8. Control of the elements.  Making the wind blow the way you wanted it to, starting a fire on a whim, or causing a rainstorm like the heroines in Shannon Hale‘s Books of Bayern can do could be extremely useful in both real life and fantasy situations, but usually not so dramatic that it ruled out a normal life.

9. Teleportation.  True, using this power you’d run the risk of getting noticed if someone saw you appear out of thin air, but if you could make sure you always landed in a closet with the owner of the house wasn’t home, it would be a great way to save on commute time, and possibly to see the world, and to run away from bad guys if they were after you.

10. Shape-shifting.  Out of all the powers I’ve mentioned, I think this one might really be the best, because it can encompass so many of the other powers that people want to have.  Most birds can fly, fish can breathe underwater, many animals have heightened senses that humans don’t, and some have incredible strength.  Also, I’ve often thought about how cool it would be to turn myself into a different looking human when I wanted.  I’d change to look like a different race depending on the group I was with, so I’d never have to worry about racism or racial tensions keeping me from connecting with other people.  That would be wonderful.  And as long as I only changed shape in private, I could still have normal relationships with other people.

Well… mostly normal relationships.  Truth be told, all of these powers have potential negative side effects, just like anything cool that people can do in the real world.  However, these powers do have the upside of being a little bit safer to use socially, since you can enjoy the benefits of them without other people realizing, so while the powers shown in movies and comic books are usually a different sort, I think the “soft” powers are actually a lot more fun to read about, and to write about.