Monthly Archives: April 2017

It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World

A good friend in high school, whenever anything went wrong, would say, “Well, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” Sadly, those words have a lot of truth in them. I suppose we should blame Darwin for pointing out that our basic natures include a survival of the fittest mentality. I played a lot of sports growing up and was as competitive as anyone. I can still remember the high I would feel when my competitive nature helped me lock in and focus on an opposing team.

Those early days of athletic competition were a good training ground for the rest of my life. The adult world is one big battleground. Countries compete to be world powers (sometimes for world domination). Businesses compete for market share. Individuals compete against each other for the biggest raise or best position, for the nicest things, and even for the cutest spouse – especially the cutest spouse (by the way, I won that last competition). My own family loves to play games and we can be so competitive when we do that are friend, who participated with us once, remarked that my family’s competitive nature was “just plain scary.”

As this clip from the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer,[i] shows, it’s to the point that, in every aspect of our lives, we are told we have to hate our opponent if we expect to succeed:

Competition has reached the level of the absurd in some cases. I participate in the social media site, Linked In, and I am often surprised at the amount of requests I get from people I have never heard of. Some people apparently reach out to anyone and everyone, trying to connect with as many people as possible, even bragging about how many connections they have. But from my experience, it’s not the number of ties we have with others, it’s the strength of those ties, that really matters. Isn’t nice to have a close friend or two beside us each day as we face the dog-eat-dog world?

What makes a good friend, one that lasts separation and the passing of time? Dr. Alex Lickerman, writing in Psychology Today (February 2010), lists four elements of what draws us together as friends (with all of these needing to be present for a lasting friendship):

Common Interests – When our interests diverge and we can find nothing to enjoy jointly, time spent together tends to rapidly diminish. Not that we can’t still care deeply about friends with whom we no longer share common interests, but it’s probably uncommon for such friendships to interact on a regular basis.

History or Common Experiences – Nothing ties people together, even people with little in common, than having gone through the same difficult experience. We see it all the time in team sports, where off the field or court, we never spend time together, but are best friends on the field of battle.

Common Values – Although values alone are often not enough to create a friendship, if values are too divergent, it’s difficult for a friendship to thrive.

Equality – If one friend needs the support of the other on a consistent basis such that the person depended upon receives no benefit other than the opportunity to support and encourage, though the relationship may be significant and valuable, it can’t be said to define true friendship.

The opposite is also true. If one member of the friendship is always trying to one-up the other, it won’t be a friendship for long. Enjoy this clip from Bridesmaids,[ii] but especially notice these friends trying to best the other, making the situation all about each off them rather than the bride they should be honoring:

John Green, the writer of the book upon which The Fault in Our Stars[iii] is based, said it well when talking about our basic natures to outdo even our good friends:

“Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. [We all] want to leave a mark. [But] the marks humans leave are too often scars.”

Why do we always hurt others, even those we love? When it comes to what friends should be for each other, I love this analogy of the coastal redwoods of northern California. Even though these majestic trees grow to heights of 300 feet and can weigh more than a million pounds, they have a very shallow root system. Their roots go down only three to six feet but spread out several hundred feet. As their roots extend out, they intertwine with other redwoods. This intertwining creates a webbing effect and is the secret of their strength. Without being connected with others, these redwoods would not survive.

Like redwoods, as friends, we need to learn to love and support each other, not compete with each other. Or as said in the closing scene of Seabiscuit,[iv] good friends “fix” each other:

Admittedly, competition can bring out the best in us. But I think there is a difference between competing with someone and competing against someone. Let’s do our best in life, but let’s celebrate the success of others, knowing that their success is often partly due to us, and the positive effect we can have on them.

The only thing I like as much as movies is musical theater. One Broadway play I enjoy is Wicked, not because of the story (which I find little cheesy), but because of the great music. And my favorite song is “For Good” near the end of the play.  Glinda and Elphaba are parting after some crazy experiences together, and they say some things about friendship that are spot on:

  • I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,
  • Bringing something we must learn,
  • And we are led to those who help us most to grow,
  • If we let them.
  • And we help them in return.
  • Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true,
  • But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.
  • Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun,
  • Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood,
  • Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
  • But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
  • It may well be that we will never meet again in this lifetime,
  • So let me say before we part,
  • So much of me is made of what I learned from you.
  • You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart.
  • And now whatever way our stories end,
  • I know you have re-written mine by being my friend.
  • Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea,
  • Like a seed dropped by a sky-bird in a distant wood,
  • Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
  • But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Here’s a dozen movies (in chronological order) I recommend about or exemplifying friendship. Find a friend and watch them together, and say thanks to your friend for being a friend – and don’t forget to be a good friend in return.

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • Stand By Me (1986)
  • My Girl (1991)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  • The Sandlot (1993)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Clueless (1995)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Near the end of the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why,[v] Clay Jensen says it best: “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her…. It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”

As we navigate through the dog-eat-dog world, may we be part of the solution, not the problem.

[i] Searching for Bobby Fischer

  • Production Company: Mirage Enterprises
  • Director: Steven Zaillian
  • Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Fred Waitzkin)
  • Starring: Joe Mantegna, Ben Kingsley and Max Pomeranc
  • Release date: August 11, 1993

[ii] Bridesmaids

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, and Apatow Productions
  • Director: Paul Feig
  • Screenwriter: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
  • Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne
  • Release date: May 13, 2011

[iii] The Fault in Our Stars

  • Production Company: Fox 2000 Pictures, Temple Entertainment, and TSG Entertainment
  • Director: Josh Boone
  • Screenwriter: Scott Neustadler and Michael H. Weber (based on the book by John Green)
  • Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolf
  • Release date: June 6, 2014

[iv] Seabiscuit

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Dreamworks, Spyglass Entertainment
  • Director: Gary Ross
  • Screenwriter: Gary Ross (based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand)
  • Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Elizabeth Banks
  • Release date: July 25, 2003

[v] 13 Reasons Why

  • Production Company: Kicked Off the Curb Productions, Anonymous Content and July Moon Productions
  • Creator: Brian Yorkey (based on the book by Jay Asher)
  • Starring: Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford
  • Release date: March 31, 2017

Please Choose Life

I have been thinking a lot about suicide lately – not thoughts of ending my own life, but why any young person, with so much of life ahead of them, would ever get to the point where they would choose death over life. (Older people – who actually have the highest rates of suicide – are a different matter. I think at some point, everyone has the right to die – but that’s a topic for another blog.)

In America, someone attempts suicide once every minute, and someone is successful in that attempt once every 17 minutes. Worldwide, about 2,000 people kill themselves every day. Actually, the rates are probably much higher than that, as many deaths are categorized as accidental deaths, but in reality, are probably suicides (only about a third of known suicide victims leave a note). Even with understated statistics, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, and outnumbers deaths by homicide. For every two people killed by homicide, three people die from suicide. Surprisingly, the spring months of March, April and May have the highest suicide rates, consistently four to six percent higher than the rest of the year (suicides around Christmas time are actually below average). And not so surprisingly, more suicides occur on Monday than any other day of the week; Saturday has the fewest.

I recently watched The Edge of Seventeen.[i] The opening scene deals with suicide in a somewhat comical way:

But suicide is no laughing matter. It is a complex issue, usually with more than a single reason behind it. I am not a mental health specialist but I think it is safe to say that those who attempt to kill themselves usually feel hopeless, abandoned, ostracized, laughed at, or otherwise like an outsider. Statistics bear this out. Divorced people are three times more likely to take their own life than people who are married. Abuse victims are more likely to try suicide than their peers. LBGT high school students attempt suicide more often than heterosexual teens.

Although it has been almost 40 years since I watched the movie, The Deer Hunter,[ii] I still remember vividly this scene of Russian roulette:

Did you catch Robert DeNiro’s urgings to Christopher Walken? “I love you. Come home, Mickey, just come home. Home. Talk to me.” But for Walken’s character, it was too late. The horrors of war had irreversibly changed him. Is it too simplistic or naive to believe that suicides could be prevented if everyone had someone who truly loves them, and a safe place where they can just be themselves without judgment or repercussions?

One of the saddest stories I have ever read involved a young gay man struggling to be accepted for who he really was. In 2000, Stuart Matis walked up the steps of a Mormon church building in Los Altos, California, with a note reading “do not resuscitate” pinned to his shirt, and shot himself. After a lifetime spent struggling to reconcile his church’s beliefs and being gay, he explained in his suicide note that “for the first time in over 20 years, I am free from my pains. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay. Perhaps my death … might be some catalyst for much good…. Your actions might help to save many young people’s lives.”

The same night Matis was writing his suicide note, his mother was up writing a letter to church authorities asking them to change the Church’s position on gays.

Before his suicide, Matis thought about leaving the Church. He approached his church leader and told him he was gay and had thoughts about killing himself. The church leader, who counseled Matis for several months, pleaded with him, if this is a choice between life and the church, choose life.

Sadly, Matis’s best friend, also gay, took his own life two months later.

Like Matis, people who consider taking their own lives really don’t want to die, they just want to stop hurting and they can’t see any other alternative. A suicidal person will give some kind of clue about how they feel before they take action. Often it is in some form of joke or flippant comment, but take those jokes and comments seriously. They are really a cry for help. You don’t make someone suicidal by showing you care. Discussing the subject openly is one of the best things you can do for them. And as you talk with a friend or loved one who is contemplating hurting themselves, just be yourself and non-judgmental. Let them know their life is important to you. And give hugs. In fact, give hugs whether or not a friend or loved one is contemplating suicide. Not surprisingly, studies show that people who hug are happier than those that don’t.

Most of us at one time or another feel like Nadine does in this scene near the end of The Edge of Seventeen. We don’t like what we see when we look at ourselves and don’t know how to change it.

Please know your life is important to someone. If the choice is life versus the alternative, please choose life.

Other times, we feel like Damien. Someone confides in us their innermost feelings and we don’t know what to say. Often in those times, all that is needed is that hug. So if you’re feeling blue, talk to someone about it. If someone feeling depressed or alone confides in you, just listen.

And don’t forget that hug.

[i] The Edge of Seventeen

  • Production Company: Gracie Films and STX Entertainment
  • Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
  • Screenwriter: Kelly Fremon Craig
  • Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
  • Release date: November 18, 2016

[ii] The Deer Hunter

  • Production Company: EMI Films and Universal Pictures
  • Director: Michael Cimino
  • Screenwriter: Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn
  • Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Cazele
  • Release date: February 23, 1979