It's not to you to complete the work

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה

— Pirkei Avot 2:21  

Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor v’lo atah ben chorin l’hivatel mimena. 1

Another inspiring quote. This one is from kerrypolka on tumblr (which site seems to have gone dark). Currently the text can be found here.

It’s about Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the nature of Captain America and how grimdark superhero stories are lazy.

Captain America and Superman might be the hardest characters to write because they are good in a world that is not. They strive for the moral end in the face of everybody else giving up to some degree.

Peter Parker/Spiderman is good also, but he’s young and so the dichotomy isn’t as clear. Captain America is old. He’s seen things, he’s experienced the evil of mankind, and still chooses to do the right thing. 2

The background is from Daredevil. The U.S. government has released a super-soldier that is loyal to America but amoral and Cap is confronting the General in charge. I learned about this page from Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror.

“I’m loyal to nothing, General – except the dream.”

I keep coming back to this idea. Nationalism is the root of a great many evils. “Us” versus “them”. But the ideas of the U.S.A. or the French Revolution or the Magna Carta, the ideas that were never realized fully (or at all) because we are flawed and greedy…the ideas have weight and power. The dream has worth and is worth fighting towards.

It’s related to the quote we know from Spiderman, August 1962, “with great power there must also come–great responsibility!” 3 but it’s a wee bit different in it calls on implied power, on one’s ability to act at all.

It’s not to you to complete the work of repairing the world, but neither may you desist from it.

  1. “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” or “It’s not to you to complete the work of repairing the world, but neither may you desist from it.” 

  2. This is why the recent storyline where Cap is working on behalf of Hydra was so immediately offensive to so many people. 

  3. Interestingly, the provenance of this quote is unknown. The earliest sentence equating great power and great responsibility is from the decrees of the French National Convention, 8 May 1793: “Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir.” (They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power.) No authors are listed.