Mar 13, 2012

From a Certain Point of View

I wonder how many people would flat out argue with me if I said that a venti white chocolate mocha from Starbucks is the best drink ever in the history of the universe.

Hmm. Probably most people.

I was pondering a few things all at once - as I am wont to do - and they rather jumbled into a thick stew in my brainy parts, and this was the thing that came out. But I'm starting out with the punch line; arguably the wonkiest way to start a joke. Ah, so WABAC machine set, Mister Peabody. Allons-y!

When I was, oh, about 5 or 6, I remember sleeping in the back seat of our family car. It might have been the toyota pickup or it might have been the blazer - hard to say, because I was asleep at that moment. But I remember thinking very specifically in that moment that how a car drove around the world was a complex thing, and what if the car itself wasn't moving, but what if the car remained still while the world moved beneath it? Once I did the math on that and realized that there was no way that the world could move independently beneath every single car, I maintained that little half-illusion for a bit more and thought it was an amusing concept, nonetheless. Years later, there are dreams I have at night that I hit the snooze button a couple times for, just on the off chance I can just jump right back in and enjoy a few more moments of.

Some dreams are good that way.

That recollection mingled with a few current political conversations that I won't bore you all with, but I'll let you enjoy the recognition of that particular metaphorical interplay for a moment.

Yeah. Funny, huh? Okay, moving on.

John Carter of Mars came out this weekend, and all the internet was talking about how much of a bomb it was. Yeah, 100 million dollars in its first weekend, and it's a bomb. Huh. Weird. I gotta say, I wouldn't mind having a bomb or two like that in my media empire. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie - yes, I haven't seen it yet, but I really don't see a lot of movies in the theaters anymore (I'll be making my rare exceptions with Hunger Games and The Avengers, for those of you keeping score), so please don't take this as a vote of dismissal.

But up or down, the quality of a movie these days isn't as interesting as it is to watch everyone see how quickly they can form a strong opinion for or against it. As if they want to be remembered as the voice of reason amongst the tempest. I've got two things to say about that: "Star Wars", and "Shhh."

When Star Wars came out, there were several weeks - a few months, even - when the critics just tore it to pieces. Siskel and Ebert, I'm looking at you. The best they could come up with was to say it had pretty cutting-edge special effects, but that was pretty much it.

Oh, I'm not suggesting that Star Wars was the pinnacle of cinematic mastery, I can be realistic and still love that film. But what I really have found to be so interesting is that all those critics, only a year or two later - much less in some cases - recognized how wrong they had been and all began changing their tune. Many tried later to rephrase or amend their initial reviews, or simply pretend it never happened.

But let's be honest, shall we? You got it wrong. You put all your chips on the wrong number, and you took a hit for it. It happens.

I'm much more impressed by critics who recognize that they might be wrong - well, I say that from a very theorhetical perspective, because I can't really think of any of those sorts of critics off the top of my head. If you know one, please let me know. I've gone through many podcasts of various movie critics and invariably unsubscribe to them not when I disagree with them (because I actually like viewpoints that differ from my own) but when their opinions are delivered in the context of "anyone who doesn't realize I'm correct is a moron and is no longer entitled to an opinion." Movies, their success and the enjoyment a moviegoer experiences at their viewing is subjective. This enjoyment is dependent upon the experiences of the moviegoer and may also be dramatically influenced simply upon their mood that day. But this is not the case to hear a critic review them - - oh good lord, no. If it's bad, it's bad, and that's all there is to say about it.

Look, there are probably even people who liked Battlefield Earth. I'm not one of them, but I'm sure there's someone out there who liked it. Someone. Somewhere. (Pause)

My other point harkens back to elementary school. This is back before the days of videotapes, back when we actually had those wonderful movie projectors. I miss those - there was the click-hiss and the wonderfully mechanical sound of the machine as it warmed up, the flickering light on the roll-down screen, and the countdown: five....four...three... two.... click click wwhhhhzzzzzzzzz... Loved that. But the part that was always a little bit annoying was getting the class to shut up.

It became a Shhh war. Remember that? One kid would keep yammering on, someone would try and shhh them, and then someone would shhh them and so on and so forth (and there was usually one kid who'd chime in "it!" - that was, I will confess, occasionally me). But the issue was that the people who were trying to shush the one kid actually made more noise than that one kid was making. And they would often remain talking just to tick off the shushers. It was a lose-lose situation, and to tell you the truth, I have no idea how to fix that kind of thing.

The next intercepting observation was a recent YouTube video a kind and thoughtful gentleman made about how to help traffic jams. The key to it all was knowing that you cannot fix how people ahead of you are driving, and all you can do is try to help the people behind you. The solution is to simply drive steady, leave ample space ahead of you and let people merge. Seriously. That's all there is to it. I've seen crazy traffic conditions in other cities - I remember being on the 80 going out of the Bay Area in rush hour traffic - and all the cars were going 50, with less than a car length between them. It was madness. But if you signalled to change lanes, an opening would appear, just like magic. Best rush hour experience of my life.

So that brings us back to the title of this little blog today.

Been doing my best to keep up on blogs lately - not my own, clearly, but yours. Yes, you. No, not the person behind you, I'm talking to you. Been doing a lot of reading, actually, and one of the things I've noticed is that a lot of folks are pretty sure they're Right.

Now, being right is all well and good. I've been right a few times, myself - if my wife is reading this, I'm only kidding - so I don't have anything against people wanting to be right, or even being right. But the part that starts to worry me is when that rightness is perceived as unique and solitary rightness.

The best lesson I had in college was a stark reminder of one undeniable truth: that no matter how right you think you are, there is a truth that you do not yet know which will one day prove you wrong. And I believe this goes for anything. Truth is a layered perception of the exploration of our own layered perception of truth. The more we truly know, the less we see that we understand. If we think we have all the answers, it's only because we've not been asking the right questions.

Returning to my earlier comments about Star Wars, let's think back to a classic conversation from the 3rd movie - - Return of the Jedi (yes, I still think about them in terms of their chronological release, back off). If you've seen the movies, then cool. But for those who haven't, ** SPOILER ALERT **

Luke: Ben, why didn't you tell me? You told me that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered my father.

Ben: Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and "became" Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view.

Luke: A certain point of view?

Ben: Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend. When I first met him, your father was already a great pilot. But I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.

For me as a young teenager, this was one of the points in the movies where it just broke everything down and became real. Here was Obi Wan Kenobi, master of the force, admitting he had been wrong, once upon a time. It was surreal. Was that possible? Could you be so wise and yet have made mistakes?

And that's when it hit me.

The mistakes you make are what make you wise.

None of us are perfect. Not a one. We are going to make bad calls, poor decisions, sloppy bets - we're going to turn left when we should have gone right, we're going to forget our car keys in our other jacket, forget to put the gas cap on, hit reply when we meant to hit direct message, I mean there's a thousand ways we can screw up on a daily basis. It's part of our individual progress.

But the really cool part of this is the realization that no matter how right we think we are, there's someone else out there who gets it just a bit better than we do. They may not wear a clever hat or have really cool robes or sit atop a mountain dispensing wisdom. They might be in the car next to us on the highway, they could be on the other end of the phone, and perhaps they're the person fixing us that heavenly white chocolate mocha. We don't know. On the other hand, if Schrödinger had it right, then they are.

There's your homework for today - next person you see, imagine if they had the secrets to happiness, the key to universal wisdom. Ponder that for a moment and see if your expectations change.

Have a great day, everyone.

1 comment:

Dave Glenn said...

I appreciate your gift for writing. I was having a conversation with my 13 year old daughter the other day in which wise things were flowing from my mouth. I felt the power of a sage as I expounded great pearls of wisdom. I realize that my lifetime filled with countless mistakes has been a great tool for imparting wisdom to my children.

I am thankful for your wisdom. How did you get so wise?