It starts with five simple words:


And then it comes. The music builds. Lightning from the sky strikes the man with the upraised sword. Does it hurt him? Just listen to what he says next:


You remember. Electric bolts of pure energy crackle around his muscled body. Hands that can punch through solid steel grip the sword that transformed the bumbling prince into the most powerful man in the universe. You remember the way it felt to grab hold of a plastic sword or a stick or even empty air and say those same words: I have the power.

We all want the power. But the world seems to be short on magic swords these days. Believe me, I've checked. (You think I'd be writing this if I had a magic sword? No way. I'd be out battling shadow beasts and seven-headed monsters, saving nubile red-haired maidens from guys with skulls for faces.)

So what do we do? Well, I suppose you can grow a mustache and build weapons devices and adopt an orphan who grows up to be captain of the guards. But let's face it. Not everyone can grow mustaches. And even if you can, do you really want to? Basically the only people who can have mustaches without looking silly are those who've always had mustaches. (Having a mustache attached to a beard doesn't count, by the way. It's still just a beard. That's a whole other story.) It's something set from the time of adolescence, something you have to choose. Either you're a mustache guy or you're not. Once you've decided, it's locked in. (It works both ways, too. Suddenly you shave off your mustache and bam! You've got a lip coming from nowhere. Scary.)

Okay. You don't have a magic sword, or a mustache, or skill with weapons or space technology in a barbarian sorcery world. You can't be He-Man or Man-At-Arms. I'll assume that, like me, if you can't do any of the above, you also cannot fly, ram into buildings with your head, or transform into a mystical falcon. Is this reason to despair? Will your life be meaningless from now on?

The answer to all of these questions is: NO! You can have the power without the magic sword. No, I don't mean you'll be able to pick up Castle Grayskull and throw it into the air using your bulging muscles. I'm talking about the real power that He-Man wields. His morality.

Fast forward to the end of the show. The battle with Skeletor was fought and won. Old skullface runs off, shaking his hands in the air, vowing eternal revenge. Like we're scared. Next time we'll just beat him again. No matter who he brings along! (By the way, who has a skull instead of a face? How can he even see without eyeballs?) After all that the show should be over, right?

Wrong! Now comes the most important part. The moral.

You've heard the expression, "the moral of the story." No doubt your 11th grade English teacher had you combing all the pages from "Call me Ishmael" to "Finis" so you could explain, in your own words, just what Moby Dick really meant. He-Man would never lead you on such a pointless chase. At the end of every single episode, He-Man (or one of his faithful and heroic friends) tells you plainly and simply what you should know about how to live a good and happy life. That knowledge, my friends, is real power. With it you can master the universe. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Price of Promises

So here's a problem - how do you go about breaking a promise you made to a dragon?

He-Man and Teila faced this situation. They knowingly and willingly entered into a bargain with a dragon. Why? The dastardly hell-fiend Skeletor sneaked into the palace and turned Man-At-Arms into a statue. The Sorceress didn't know how to turn back Duncan, but she did know someone who did: Granamyr, the most ancient Dragon and the wisest being on all of Eternia. One little problem, though. She can't tell anyone where he lives. She made a promise.

This should have been a big warning to He-Man. Be careful what you promise dragons.

He-Man and girl power heroine Teila manage to find their way to Granamyr. He sees em, makes a few choice remarks about the human race, and agrees to help them. If. If they will promise to cut down the oldest tree in all of Eternia - the oldest living being in all of Eternia - thereby making Granamy the oldest of em all.

Okay. Maybe there's something special about this tree. Maybe He-Man and Teila should do some investigating before they agree to cutting it down. But they were desperate. Desperate people do stupid things.

Making a deal with the devil, it's called. Wanting something so bad that you don't look toward the consequences. Or maybe you do look to the consequences, but you do it anyway. For He-Man and Teila, they were saving Duncan's life. They agreed to banish to the demon dimension of they were to renege on their promise.

Be careful what you promise dragons.

Of course the tree turns out to be a living, conscious being. (Complete with a blue leprechaun guard.) Of course He-Man and Teila cannot bring themselves to cut it down. They won't pay that price, even for Man-At-Arms.

There is a price on human lives, it turns out, even for one such as Man-At-Arms. It's not so much what you'll pay for a life that determines its price - it's what you won't do. The value of Duncan's life would become meaningless if it was purchased with the blood - or sap, in this case - of an innocent.

Luckily for He and Te, Granamyr is impressed with their choice and doesn't send them to dance with the demons. But still. Granamyr had them in his power. He could've banished them forever.

Be careful what you promise dragons.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Son Of Two Worlds

Prince Adam is a son of two worlds.

He is a son of the royal palace, for one. Accustomed to spacious, luxurious bedrooms and gold plated flatware, he is a royal son of Eternia.

He is a son of Grayskull. Dark, forbidding, and powerful, Grayskull has gifted him with secrets and might beyond compare.

He is a son of King Randor, of Eternia. At ease with a spear alongside a space shuttle, Adam is content to befriend dragons and sorcerers one moment and help Man-At-Arms in his futuristic workshop build a shrinking ray the next.

He is a son of Earth. Born of a mother marooned millions of miles away from her home planet, Adam has the blood of a thousand thousand generations of hunters, killers, heroes, thinkers and, ultimately, survivors.

There are times when Adam struggles with his identity. Like all heroes with secret identities, he can never show his whole self to many of the people he loves. He is surrounded by Eternians. Though many of them may look a lot like humans - except for the strangely high proportion of red-heads - they are not. Whatever human differences live inside him, he has only one other person - his mother - to share them with.

Thankfully, Adam does have confidants: the terrific three. Orco is a fellow outcast who understands the plight of the outsider. The Sorceress shares the burden of other worldly power. And Duncan is entangled in the mystery of mustaches.

Who knows? One day, Adam just might need to know about them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Tough To Be A Dragon

One of the things He-Man teaches us again and again is that you can't judge a book by its cover.

Take Dragons, for example. Dragons can fly; they have razor sharp claws that can tear you to ribbons; they have a massive tail that can crush your spine; and, oh yeah, they breathe fire. Very dangerous creatures to be around.

Those are precisely the reasons Skeletor takes control of a clutch of dragon eggs. With Beast-Man's help, he steal the eggs, juices them up with quick growth serum, and sicks them onto the heroic warriors.

Luckily for the good guys Man-At-Arms has developed a stasis ray that immobilizes the dragons.

At this point, the heroes could rest easy. They've defeated the dragons - and dragons are bad, right? I mean, look how dangerous they are. Something so scary and dangerous must be evil. But He-Man doesn't stop there. He doesn't assume the dragons are bad. He wonders why the dragons attacked. Well, who would want to attack Eternia? Old Bone Dome, who just happens to a have an animal control expert on staff.

This leads him to investigate Skeletor. It's a good thing, too. Skeletor has broken through Castle Grayskull's defenses and imprisoned the Sorceress. He-Man and friends, with the dragons as allies (once Beast-Man is stasis-ized) manage to win back the day.

If He-Man and company had simply assumed that the dragons were bad (and not investigated Skeletor, thus learning of his diabolical plot), they might not have arrived in time to save the Sorceress and Grayskull. A Skeletor in control of Grayskull would have meant enslavement and eventual death for every foe of Skeletor.

(By the way, can you really blame the guy for wanting to be in control of Castle Grayskull? Come on! The guy has a skull for a face! It's like the thing was made just for him. Are the good guys taunting him? Couldn't they at least put a beard made of vines on the front of the castle to make it look a little less like the Big Bad Bone?)

Usually we're told not to judge by appearances because of the effects this can have on the person (or creatures) being judged. That's true here, of course - the dragons weren't put down, which I'm sure they appreciate. But more importantly are the effects on the people doing the judging. Looking past the book's cover and reading the pages gave them the information that saved their lives.

Friday, May 15, 2009


The moral mastery blog is on vacation until May 29th. Until then, if you run into a difficult situation, just ask yourself: would He-Man do this?

And if you're really desperate - would even Orko do it?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cleanlines is next to...

Orco doesn't keep a very tidy room. He tries to clean it up with magic and just ends up making it worse. It would just be simpler for him to pick everything up by hand (by floating, arm-less glove, I mean) but he would rather try for the easier way out. Even if it ends in a clutter bomb.

Orco isn't just avoiding the physical activity of cleaning. He's avoiding the mental task. The mental task involves choosing where things are to go, to be sure - but usually things have their pre-arranged place. The harder mental tasks are making choices of priority: what to do first, what the best way is to do it. Engaging in these mental tasks requires you to visualize doing the task; this can be harder than the work itself. It suddenly seems like so much work. Oh, how unpleasant it will be to gather all that dirty laundry. Oh, I hate washing the windows. Oh, my toy box is full - wherever will I find the space? And on and on. He gets caught in a feedback loop.

Some people handle this part easily, because they don't think about it much. Others worry. I think Orco is one of the latter.

So instead he would rather not think about it. He'd rather throw out a magic spell and hope that it takes care of itself. It rarely does.

Orco needs to learn to think about something without worrying about it. This is no easy feat, and he doesn't have any magic shortcut up his sleeve for help with this.

Here's my advice, Orco: write out a plan. Don't let your mind wander over all the unpleasant possiblities. List each general task you need to complete: put stuff away, make your bed, throw garbage out. If you need to, make a more detailed sub-category (put stuff away would involve: 1) putting back priceless Eternian jewels from Queen Marlena's personal collection; 2) giving back to Man-At-Arms his shrinking ray.)

Once you have your plan in place, stop thinking about it, start doing it, and check each item off as you go down the list. Presto! No more worry.

One important point: if you run into trouble (like, say, Man-At-Arms is currently lurking in his labaratory and you'd rather not be seen returning his Shrinking Ray because you didn't exactly ask permission to borrow it) don't start worrying. Simply repeat the above process all over again. Consider your objective, and write down the best plan for achieving it.

Once this becomes habit, Orco may not need to go through the formal process of writing it down. His mind will work toward solutions instead of worry.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Skeletor has found himself in He-Man's mercy on more than one occasion. Does He-Man deliver the coup-de-grace? Does he rid Eternia of countless years of terror? No. Like Superman and other do-gooders, He-Man chooses not to "stoop to their level."

He-Man's rationale is a classic golden boy hero creed: the moment I act like them (the villains), I become them. He-Man will always stop short of causing someone's death. Fine. There's a certain symmetry to such a belief.

What's the only alternative for dealing with those who cause death in the first place? Imprisonment, naturally. The only problem is that Skeletor can pretty much disappear at will. Whether he summons a dimensional portal or simply dissolves into thin air, Skeletor always gets away.

Should He-Man adopt a new policy? If Skeletor cannot be contained, does he have an obligation to take Skeletor out once and for all? Should He-Man kill?

No. Not because Skeletor's life should be protected at all costs, or because it's categorically wrong to kill. He-Man shouldn't kill because it's not his job to do so. He's not part of the Eternian military - he's a volunteer. As with all volunteers, you can only expect what you pay for - which is exactly nothing. He-Man has decided to take upon himself the task to "defend the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil forces of Skeletor." He's willing to sacrifice his time and risk his life to perform this task; if he wants to make it all the harder on himself by not putting an end to Skeletor once and for all, that's his business.

I think that deep down He-Man believes one day Skeletor will change. That after years of witnessing He-Man's peerless example Skeletor will finally see the error of his ways. Personally, I think He-Man's wrong, but I'm not the one donning furry speedos at the first sign of danger, am I? (My wife certainly hopes not.) He-Man chooses to believe, and he takes responsibility for that belief every time he lifts aloft his magic sword to battle Skeletor. He has earned the right to fight the way he wants.

The only sensible thing to do, as loyal tax-paying Eternian citizens, is to vote for the creation of a specialized cadre of assassins and send them to Snake Mountain. Let He-Man be golden boy; we just want to live in peace.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Eternians like to laugh. Whether it's Evil-Lyn's ominous, throaty chuckle or Man-At-Arm's kindly guffaw, laughter abounds in any given episode of He-Man. It's one of the things that unites Hero and Villain. When you look at what precipitates the laughter the similarities begin to vanish. Not completely, however.

Take misfortune. When Skeletor is convinced He-Man is firmly in his grasp and he consequently lets loose his vindictive cackle, he isn't laughing because Beast-Man told a joke. He's laughing because he thinks He-Man is about to be utterly destroyed, and that's just about the most amusing thing Skeletor can contemplate.

Pretty mean, huh? Laughing at someone else's misfortune?

Recall for me the last time one of Orco's magic tricks took a slightly - uh - tangential turn. What happened next? If, for example, Orco was attempting to levitate a clutch of freshly baked Eternian tarts when he suddenly loses control, you can bet that one of them is going to find itself upside down on Man-At-Arm's face, pie juice staining his bristly upper lip.

Shortly following this accident is Adam's great belly laugh - you know, the one where he has to dip his head backward to allow the full volume of mirth to escape from his body.

Man-At-Arm's accident is Adam's entertainment.

Of course the two situations are different. Skeletor wanted He-Man brought to utter ruin, while Adam only happened to think jelly dangling from Duncan's mustache a funny sight. Duncan might be a little annoyed, but he wasn't really harmed. If Duncan ran from the room crying, lamenting that his mustache would never be the same, that his social life was ruined, Adam would stop laughing. Skeletor, in his place, would only cackle all the louder.

Where does the line fall? At the place where harm actually occurs. The Villain laughs at harm; it pleases him or her to see an enemy in pain. Harm is intense, significant and lasting. The Hero laughs at mild misfortune; while it may be annoying and unpleasant at the time, it's effects are mild and temporary. It could happen to us, right? Might as well laugh at it.

These two different responses show laughter to be an amazingly acute moral barometer. "It's not funny!" We say, when we're really hurt. "Stop laughing!" Does the person stop? If they do, that says one thing about the person; if they don't, it says another. When somebody laughs at cruelty to a person or animal we feel a chill. That's a person to watch out for, we think. That's someone I don't trust. We make that judgment on the basis of laughter.

As they laugh, so shall ye know them.