Monthly Archives: January 2018

Unique, Not Freaks

When I was in high school, a good friend of mine ran for student body president. His campaign slogan was “Unity through Individuality.” Admittedly, back then, although I understood each word, I didn’t fully understand what his slogan meant. Older and wiser now (ha!), I think I’m finally getting it. People need each other, not so much because we are alike, but because we are different. Or as my son often reminds me, we should celebrate diversity, for it is through diversity that we become and remain strong.

There have been several movies recently that have reminded me that, although each of us is different in our own way, that is how it should be. In other words, we are unique, not freaks. A boy with a grossly disfigured face turns out to be, well, a normal, thoughtful boy in Wonder.[i] A group of circus performers, that most people consider to be freaks, embrace their uniqueness and share their talents for their own self-fulfillment and for the enjoyment of others in The Greatest Showman.[ii] A mute woman discovers love with a misunderstood water creature in The Shape of Water.[iii] Similarly, a young, gay man learns that love comes in different flavors, including his own particular one, in Call Me By Your Name.[iv]

But celebrating diversity is not as easy as it sounds. The world keeps getting smaller, but that only makes differences in culture and language more pronounced. William G. Eggington, a linguistics professor at Brigham Young University, described it this way:

“We are most comfortable when we are with ”our people.”… But … we spend more and more time proximate to people from other families, … other cities, regions and nations…. In essence, we interact more and more with – and are closer and closer to – people who speak in strange tongues and who do strange things. We are living in a world of strangers….

“We can choose to respond to [these] challenges … in a number of ways. We can withdraw into our sameness – our family, friends and regional and national identities – setting up barriers that protect us from interacting in meaningful ways with those who are different. Some people of the world have chosen to do this by withdrawing geographically behind walls of national or religious exclusion. Others choose to do it in more subtle ways, relying on technology, so that even though they are physically surrounded by those from different backgrounds, they can always be “virtually” at home, encased in their familial comforting iPod music, their electronic Facebook and Twitter friends, and their same-minded political blogs and digital social networks…. Our challenge then is to overcome our … reluctance to interact with those who come from different languages, dialects, and cultural backgrounds.”

So how do we break down those artificial barriers we build around us? The simplest answer is often the best. In Wonder we are reminded (quoting American self-help philosopher, Dr. Wayne Dyer), when choosing between being right and being kind, chose kind. Here is a trailer from the movie containing a collage of scenes illustrating this theme:

To kindness we can add acceptance. The Shape of Water is the story, set during the Cold War, of a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibious creature who was captured in a South American river and is being held in captivity for experimental purposes. My favorite quote from the movie is by the mute woman (given through an interpreter) about the water creature: “When he looks at me, the way he looks at me, he does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am. He’s happy to see me. Every time.” What a wonderful world it would be if each of us felt that kind of acceptance.

In Call Me By Your Name, a teenage boy falls in love with an older (but still) young man who is visiting his family for the summer. The setting is in the 1980s, well before same sex relationships were considered acceptable. In my favorite scene from the movie, the young man’s father encourages his son to find whatever works for him. Everyone should have parents this understanding, regardless of the issue:

Part of celebrating diversity is realizing that each of us have unique attributes. Often, though, we realize we have these unique attributes but are not too happy about them. Most of us don’t like being different. Instead of hiding those differences, we should show them off, as did the circus performers in The Greatest Showman. Here are the words to one of the songs from the movie, This is Me,[v] which should become an anthem for all of us who feel different (and therefore alone) in one way or another:

  • When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
  • I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
  • I am brave, I am bruised
  • I am who I’m meant to be
  • This is me
  • Look out ‘cause here I come
  • And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
  • I’m not scared to be seen
  • I make no apologies
  • This is me

Through emphasizing our uniqueness, we can team with other unique people to accomplish almost anything. I love this quote from the book, The Boys in the Boat,[vi] written by Daniel James Brown, about the U.S. gold medal rowing team of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin:

“Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made up of conflicting stuff…. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower…. And yet, at the same time … no other sport demands and rewards the complete abandonment of the self the way that rowing does….

“The psychology is complex. Even as rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities … [I]f they are to row well together, each of these oarsmen must … be prepared to compromise something in the way of optimizing his stroke for the overall benefit of the boat….

“And capitalizing on diversity is perhaps even more important when it comes to the characters of the oarsmen. A crew composed entirely of eight amped-up, overtly aggressive oarsmen will often degenerate into a dysfunctional brawl in a boat or exhaust itself in the first leg of a long race. Similarly, a boatload of quiet but strong introverts may never find the common core of fiery resolve that causes the boat to explode past its competitors when all seems lost. Good crews are good blends of personalities; someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to think things through; someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh. That’s the steepest challenge.”

Our challenge is similar.  Let’s be proud of our own uniqueness and kind and accepting of others and their uniqueness. Through our unified individuality, we can create a society of inclusion for everyone, regardless of race, religion, geography, political view, gender, economics, or physical or personality characteristics.

[i] Wonder

  • Production Company: Lionsgate, Mandeville Films, Participant Media
  • Director: Stephen Chbosky
  • Screenwriters: Stephen Chbosky and Steve Conrad (based on the novel by R.J. Palacio)
  • Starring: Jacob Trembley, Owen Wilson, and Julia Roberts
  • Release date: November 17, 2017

[ii] The Greatest Showman

  • Production Company: Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox
  • Director: Michael Gracey
  • Screenwriter: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron
  • Release date: December 20, 2017

[iii] The Shape of Water

  • Production Company: Bull Productions, Double Dare You, Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Screenwriter: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
  • Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon
  • Release date: December 22, 2017

[iv] Call Me By Your Name

  • Production Company: Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features
  • Director: Luca Guadagnino
  • Screenwriter: James Ivory (based on the novel by Andre Aciman)
  • Starring:Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg
  • Release date: January 19, 2018

[v] This Is Me, music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

[vi] Daniel James Brown The Boys in the Boat, pp. 177-79.

The Root of All Evil

The Bible tells us the love of money is the root of all evil (see 1 Timothy 6:10). While I believe there are other causes of evil (such as power and bigotry), folk-philosopher, Will Rogers, described the money problem this way: “Too many people spend money they earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people that they don’t like.” Admittedly, everyone needs a certain amount of money to survive and be happy. We can’t really enjoy life if we spend most of our waking hours worrying about our next meal or where we will sleep that night. The documentary, Happy,[i] reports that studies show you need a base annual income of about $70,000 to be happy; income above that level, though, does not really contribute to our happiness. “Money is only a tool,” author Ayn Rand said. “It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” In short, once we have enough money to get by, our happiness depends more on our attitude about money than the money itself.

This point was driven home to me by two movies I watched over the holidays. Same Kind of Different as Me[ii] is the true story of Ron and Deborah Hall and their efforts to help others who are down on their luck. Ron is a very successful art dealer, but his marriage was struggling. Ron had cheated on Deborah. Instead of throwing him out, Deborah said, “This is all I’m asking from you. If you never do that again, I’ll never bring this up again and you are welcome to come home.” Ron replied, “If you will do that, I will do anything that you ask me the rest of our lives together, to show you that I love you.” What did Deborah ask Ron to do? Based on a dream she had, she asked Ron to go with her to the inner city to find a homeless man she saw in a dream. Here is Ron’s introduction into the inner city and the world of the homeless:

Through helping the homeless, and one mysterious man in particular, Ron saved his marriage and developed a friendship with Denver Moore that surpassed all racial barriers and economic classes. Together they ultimately wrote a book about their experiences and friendship, which became a platinum bestseller. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for over three and a half years, and became the basis for the movie. Denver and Ron split the profits from the book. Denver used his half to help others in the homeless community. Ron donated his half to the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth. This compelling story has now raised over $80 million for the less fortunate. In looking back at his experiences, Denver summed up life with this insight: “Whether we’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between, we’re all homeless, just working our way back home.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is All the Money in the World,[iii] the fact-based movie about the kidnapping of the 16-year-old grandson of J. Paul Getty and the grandson’s mother’s desperate attempt to get the boy’s grandfather to pay the kidnappers’ ransom demands. At the time (1973), J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world, having a net worth of over $2 billion, which would be about $8 billion in today’s dollars. If Getty earned 10 percent per year in interest on his net worth at the time of the kidnapping, his earnings would be over a half a million dollars A DAY! But as an unsurpassed miser, the kidnapping of his favorite grandson was not enough reason for Getty to part with any of his money. Here is my favorite scene from the movie because of how disgusting it is:

I am not necessarily saying that J. Paul Getty was evil, but who do you think was happier – Ron Hall or J. Paul Getty? Both men had more money than they could spend in a life time, but their attitudes about money, including what to do with it, were completely opposite. And you can only buy so much stuff and still get any satisfaction out of it. I love this quote from the comedian Steve Martin: “I love money. I love everything about it. I bought some pretty good stuff. Got me a $300 pair of socks. Got a fur sink. An electric dog polisher. A gasoline powered turtleneck sweater. And, of course, I bought some dumb stuff, too.”

Ironically, All the Money in the World has been in the news recently for a different reason. Because of sexual misconduct claims against Kevin Spacey, who originally was cast as J. Paul Getty, the director, Ridley Scott, decided to re-shoot the movie with Christopher Plummer playing J. Paul Getty. Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams, the other two principals in the movie, agreed to the re-shoots. Wahlberg reportedly was paid $1.5 million for his efforts, but Williams was paid only the minimum per diem, which totaled less than $1,000. More ironically, both actors are represented by the same agency. As soon as I heard that, I thought of my favorite scene from Jerry Maguire,[iv] another great movie dealing with money and integrity. Here’s the scene:

Can you picture Mark Wahlberg hip-hopping around his kitchen, yelling at his agent, “Show me the money?” I enjoy most Mark Wahlberg movies and I believe actors, like everyone, should get paid for their hard work. But in August, Forbes named Wahlberg the highest-paid actor of the year, calculating his pretax and pre-fee earnings at $68 million. On the other hand, we have Michelle Williams saying, “I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.” Gender-pay disparity issues aside, which actor appears to have valued making an important movie over being paid to make it, and which actor valued the money over the finished product?

A good friend of mine has taught me a lot about values. Values are not destinations, but they can provide direction and motivation. We tend to let others (our parents, our employers our churches) tell us what we value. But our true values are evidenced by those things we do when we don’t have to do anything else. In other words, where we spend our free time is what we value most. How much do we value money? Is acquiring money our end or is it a means to help us enjoy what we truly value? Remember that the real measure of our wealth is how much we would be worth to ourselves and others if we lost all our money. In short, money is a commodity that is constantly changing hands – and changing people.

In the final analysis, I believe we will be the happiest when we have figured out how to make enough money to satisfy our needs, and to enjoy a few of our wants, but use any excess wealth to help others do the same. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” While money is a necessary evil, let’s not let the love of it be the root of any evil in us.

Postscript: After writing this post and before its publication, Mark Wahlberg announced he will donate $1.5 million in Michelle Williams’ name to the #TimesUp legal fund. WME, his agency (and Michelle’s), also pledged $500,000 to the cause. A friend of mine and I had predicted this would happen. I am sure the imminent release of this post was pivotal in Wahlberg’s and WME’s decision (lol)! Anyway, good for them, although late. It’s nice to see that social pressure can sometimes cause people to do the right thing.

[i] Happy

  • Production Company:
  • Director: Roko Belic
  • Screenwriters:
  • Starring: Marci Shimoff, Gregory Berns, Richard Davidson, Ed Diener
  • Release date: 2011

[ii] Same Kind of Different as Me

  • Production Company: Disruption Entertainment, Skodam Films, One October Films
  • Director: Michael Carney
  • Screenwriters: Michael Carney and Alexander Foard
  • Starring: Renee Zellweger, Greg Kinnear and Djimon Hounsou,
  • Release date: October 22, 2017

[iii] All the Money in the World

  • Production Company: Imperative Entertainment, RedRum Films, and Scott Free Productions
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Screenwriters: David Scarpa (based on the book by John Pearson)
  • Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Mark Wahlberg
  • Release date: December 25, 2017

[iv] Jerry Maguire

  • Production Company: TriStar Pictures, Gracie Films
  • Director: Cameron Crowe
  • Screenwriters: Cameron Crowe
  • Starring: Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Renee Zellweger
  • Release date: December 13, 1996