The Power of One — Working toward Unity

I recently had a film night with a few friends and we watched this movie which I’d never seen before and it reminded me of my blog.  It’s been a long time readers.  Please forgive my hiatus.  I shall reward you with one of my classic style reviews.

 

Film:The Power of One

The Power of One, 1992

Starring: Stephen Dorff, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis:

Based on the book by Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One is set in South Africa during the 1930s-40s, and follows an English orphan named P.K. who faces prejudice from his Afrikaaner classmates.  Taken on by an elderly German pianist who, upon the outbreak of WWII, is interned in prison, P.K befriends black inmates, learns how to box, and listens to stories about a mythical rainmaker who is to bring unity and stop the infighting among the tribes.  P.K. works to fight injustice and challenge adversity while befriending people based on the content of their character rather than their skin color or ethnic background.

 

My Thoughts (mild spoilers):

The film came out while South Africa was still in the throws of Apartheid, an incredibly oppressive system of racial segregation, and the movie covers the time period of the genesis of apartheid.  At first I thought the title was a reference to the power of one individual, especially since it follows the exploits of one boy who through facing shameful bullying based on prejudice developed incredible empathy for those who experienced even more systematic oppression.  P.K. then works to provide training for black teachers so that they can teach people how to read and write English, education that was illegal.  However knowing history it might look as if P.Ks efforts were for naught.  Apartheid continued for another 50 years after all.

 But in reality I think the title is actually a reference to the power of becoming one, the power of unity.

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Throughout the film the biggest accomplishments were when people came together despite their differences.  Whether it was a German pianist helping a Zulu prisoner, or an English boy conducting a concert of people from all tribes, or an Afrikaaner girl joining English and black South Africans to teach literacy, it was when diverse people came together for a united purpose that we saw beauty, that we saw hope.  Unfortunately there were many times in the film, and even more so in the history of South Africa and the world more generally, that people were unable to come together and instead were blinded by difference into conflict, often brutal and sometimes even lethal.

O ye beloved of the Lord! In this sacred Dispensation, conflict and contention are in no wise permitted. Every aggressor deprives himself of God’s grace. It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straight forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This film highlights the intense desire that despite the conflict in the world many people hold out hope for unity and recognize its beauty and power.  It is a call to action for us all to be aware of what unites us rather than what divides us, to work toward building a better world together.  The point is not whether or not this story is realistic, but that we want it to be, which to me is a sign of progress, for in time:

If you desire with all your heart friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger until it reaches the minds of all men. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

 

 

TiMER — Is ignorance bliss?

If society invented the technology for you to know exactly when you would meet your soul mate would you get it?  This is the question posed in the film TiMER.  In this world science has invented a biotechnological implant that a person can get installed after puberty.  Once installed in sets a timer that counts down to the day you will meet your soul mate.  There are two catches – 1) it does not tell you who it just tells you when and 2) it only works if your soul mate also has one installed.

Imagine the joy and bliss of knowing just when you would meet “the one” and to no longer have to worry about it.  With all the dating websites and self-help books out there, and with the divorce rate being what it is, its clear that some people would find this very enticing.  But like anything, technology is a tool, and what if that tool doesn’t work? Imagine the knowledge that you would not meet your ‘one’ until you were in your 50s, effectively ruling out biological parenthood, or the anxiety and terror of a blank timer, of not knowing.  It would be pretty much exactly how someone would feel today on the dating scene, only add the fact that other people could know for certain… and you don’t.  Would you feel inadequate? Unlovable?

TiMER is a great thought piece, and whether or not you agree with how the characters choose to live their lives, or their reactions to the TiMER, it forces us to think about relationships and how, particularly in western culture, we go searching for ‘the one’.  Music, books, films, and art in general fuel this desire, this longing to find our beloved.  It expresses our longing to seek.

But what is it we are truly seeking?  Because in reality there is no such thing as a ‘soul mate’.  Our soul’s true mate is God, it’s creator, and that is who we long for.  When we try to find that in another person, of course the relationship will struggle because unlike God humans are imperfect.

TiMER makes us think about this notion of ‘the One’ in a warped take on a romantic comedy.  As we watch the characters in the film some reject the notion of the TiMER all together and either never get one, or remove theirs after being unable to deal with the waiting and/or not knowing.

So instead of trying to solve the notion of love through technology, like in the world of the film, how can we go about finding partners in love and creating successful relationships?  What should we look for out there since we are not blessed with knowing ‘when’?  We may not have the TiMER but luckily we have guidance in the Holy Writings to help us find a partner in love and marriage.  Perhaps not “the” one but someone to make a life with, so I leave you with this quote on marriage:

“Bahá’í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity….
The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.”

500 Mountains — Greed vs. Responsibility

My friend Bryan created this music video to promote environmental responsibility and raise knowledge of a problem.  I would like to share it with you here.

Here is an email he sent to give it some context.  I hope you take a moment to watch the video and read about Mountaintop Removal.  Thank you!

Hi everyone.


Today, I am happy to share with you a music video I’ve wanted to make for over a year.  Last Spring, after learning about a destructive form of coal mining called “Mountaintop Removal (MTR),” I composed a song called “500 Mountains” to draw attention to the 500+ mountains that have been destroyed in West Virginia and surrounding States.  This process has resulted in thousands of miles of streams being buried, the pollution of the drinking water of millions, floods of coal slurry (water + coal waste) poisoning communities and the flattening of some of our nation’s most biologically diverse land, a size the equivalent of Delaware.

I first heard about mountaintop removal through my cousin, who lived in West Virginia for many months and witnessed first hand what MTR is doing to our country.  It went from being an issue I’ve never heard of to an issue at the forefront of my mind.  That’s why I am so grateful to be able to share this with you today.  Through word of mouth, social networking and email, this issue can receive the urgent awareness and attention it desperately needs.

To view this short 2 minute film / music video, please go to www.youtube.com/bryanwebermusic or click here.  This will give you a powerful visual introduction to mountaintop removal.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue and find out how you can break your State’s connection to mountaintop removal coal, please visit:  www.ilovemountains.org

Thank you for taking the time to watch my video and learn more about this important cause.

Please forward on to family and friends and share anyway you can.

Regards,

Bryan
Montclair, NJ


What is mountaintop removal? According to EarthJustice.org, Mountaintop removal coal mining, is an extremely destructive form of mining that is devastating Appalachia. Coal companies first raze an entire mountainside, ripping trees from the ground and clearing brush with huge tractors. This debris is then set ablaze as deep holes are dug for explosives. An explosive is poured into these holes and mountaintops are literally blown apart. In the past few decades, over 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. Local coal field communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects. Natural habitats in some our country’s oldest forests are laid to waste.”

Repost – Movie Review : Human Footprint

Hi everyone!  It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I figure you might enjoy this post from an eco-blog called Worldchanging.  Environmental stewardship and personal responsibility are spiritual and moral issues that we all struggle with. Here is a quote before but it’s worth repeating since I think it fits so nicely with the theme:

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

So without further ado, enjoy!

Movie Review: Human Footprint

from WorldChanging by Amanda Reed

4 people liked this


Two years ago, Worldchanging listed “Human Footprint” in its Holiday Gift Guide, but as far as I could tell no one here had offered a review of the film. Due to a recent flu that left me bed bound, I was able to watch the movie and I thought it would be of interest to Worldchanging readers if I offered a bit more information about it.

In true National Geographic fashion the film is a visual feast, with both captivating still life images and dramatic video sequences used to illustrate the vast quantity of stuff the average American uses over the course of a lifetime (where a lifetime = 77 years 9 months). The narrative is simple: the film follows an American boy and girl from birth to death and shows their average consumptive footprint. For example, at the beginning we learn that the average baby requires 1,898 pints of crude oil and 4.5 trees just to make their diapers; and then as teenagers the boy and girl develop hygiene habits that will lead to the use of over 156 toothbrushes, 389 tubes of toothpaste, 656 bars of soap, and 198 bottles of shampoo over their lives; and as adults it’s estimated that the young man and woman will live in a 2,000 square foot home and move about 10 times, with each home requiring 13,837ft of lumber, 17 tons of concrete, 400 lbs of copper piping, and 30 gallons of paint to construct. That’s a lot of awesome data, and the strength of the film is in how it visually demonstrates these abstract footprint values. As a primarily visual learner, this documentary really helped me to see how much stuff I potentially use in my life, both directly and indirectly.

Here are a selection of screen shots of some of the more impressive visual sequences that I took while watching the movie online at Snag Films:


(Screenshot of sequence showing a lifetime of showers with 28,433 rubber duckies.)

(Screenshot of a lifetime’s worth of appliances put on a wall.)

(Screenshot of sequence where a typical sports shoe is dismantled to highlight how many parts, materials and resources one shoe requires.)

(Screenshot of sequence where a Ford car’s parts are removed and arranged on a map of the world to show the global scope of the resource extraction and production of the car.)

In addition to simply making visual the hard-to-visualize large quantities of food and products I potentially consume over my lifetime, I thought the best parts of the “Human Footprint” film were in the scenes where they reveal the backstories of products or otherwise break down the sub-footprints of the things we use (see the above images of the dismantled car and sneaker, for examples). As the movie narrator says, “Without even thinking about it Americans are tapped into a global infrastructure.” This placement within a global infrastructure is of course true for all people and not just Americans. Hopefully after watching this film more people will think more about the global infrastructure within which they’re enmeshed.

The “Human Footprint” does not make a a strong argument about how you can reduce your carbon footprint or human footprint, but as a compilation of data coupled with dramatic and eye-catching images, I think the film serves as a good introduction to how big an impact our direct and indirect consumption of goods and services has on the planet. This knowledge can in turn lead to more solutions for revealing product back stories like in Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles project, or in providing eco-labels on products that show the materials, processes, transportation, energy, and water used in production, or through increased research into and mapping of supply chains, such as with Sourcemap and Tacoshed.

If you like The Story of Stuff or No Impact Man I think you’d also like this movie. You can view the “Human Footprint” online at Snag Films.

For more information on ecological footprints and product back stories, see the Worldchanging archives…

Previous stories about ecological footprints at Worldchanging include (in chronological order):
Ecological Footprints

City Limits London

Biocapacity and Ecological Footprints: Graph, Thousand Words

Principle 2: Ecological Footprints and One Planet Thinking

Personal Planets and the Little Prince

Ecological Footprint 2.0

Ecological Debt Day
Previous stories about product back stories at Worldchanging include (in chronological order):
Principle 1: The Backstory

The Eco-Nutrition Label

The Footprint Chronicles, Grey Matters

The Backstory of Stuff: New Sites Enable More Transparency in the Supply Chain

Help us change the world – DONATE NOW!

(Posted by Amanda Reed in Media at 11:00 AM)

Precious — A Mine Rich in Gems

Film:Precious Movie Poster

Precious, 2009

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Viciously abused by her mother (a riveting, Oscar-winning Mo’Nique) and pregnant by her father, Harlem teen Precious Jones (Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe) has an unexpected chance at a different life when she enrolls in an alternative school. Teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton) encourages her, but Precious must battle unimaginable barriers everywhere in her life.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to apologize for not writing sooner.  I had watched this film the first weekend in April and had meant to write a post for you all then.  I committed a blogger faux pas.

As for the film, this is one time I am glad it is not a true story as I would not wish anyone the amount of suffering Precious Jones had.  I just adore the message though, that through love and education she was able to see value in her life and work to overcome her obstacles, as insurmountable as they may seem.

Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.  – Bahá’u’lláh

Her teachers, both at her first school and at the new alternative school, saw something precious within Ms. Jones.  They could see that what appeared to be ugly rocks were actually uncut, unpolished gems and they worked hard with Precious to polish them until she was able to read and able to break free from her abusive home environment.

This is something we can all learn from.  We all have gems in the mine of ourselves, as does every other human being even illiterate pregnant teenagers.  The issue is that these gems have not been cut and polished yet so to the untrained eye they can seem like worthless rocks.  Blu Rain could see the end in the beginning, she could see those gems, and worked hard with Precious so that she could see them too and would want to polish them through perseverance.  We all have talents but sometimes we can’t see them.  A great teacher can, and can get you to see them too, and more importantly infect you with the enthusiasm to want to work to cultivate them.

Your thoughts?

What gems have you seen hidden in others?  What have you helped others achieve?  What have you achieved through someone’s encouragement?

Synecdoche, New York — Idle Fancies, Vain Imaginings, and Longing

Film:

Synecdoche, New York, 2008

Staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

After his painter wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter to Berlin, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) stages an autobiographical play in a massive New York City warehouse amid a life-size replica of Manhattan. Meanwhile, Caden must contend with the many women in his life — including a box-office worker, an actress and a shrink — in this beguiling directorial debut from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

My Thoughts:

This movie has been in the recommended queue for over a year and I am finally getting to it.  I apologize for the delay, it’s been a crazy year, and I know it’s the type of film that requires due process.  It’s the type of film that makes you think, and makes you feel.  But not comfortable feelings.  Incredibly frustratingly uncomfortable, painful feelings.  I like films like this, that force you to wrestle with this side of life but I do not enjoy films like this.  Let me elucidate that paradox a little.

Film is a medium, and as such it is not always used for entertainment and pleasure, even if that is the predominant trend.  Film can be used as a tool for communication, for meditation, or exploration.  I love it when movies use all the power film has to offer as an art form by working the visuals, and pushing the boundaries to actually show you something rather than tell you.  This movie does that.  However what it shows is frankly unpleasant.  It does it really well, but it’s painful. It helps you to experience the pain and suffering of the main character by getting so lost in him, and his meta existence so as to trick you into feeling that (if you are highly empathetic like myself).  If you like films like Lost in Translation or Magnolia then you will like this movie, but it’s even more extreme.   Ok, with that lengthy introduction let me actually get to the content of the film.

The film begins like a typical independent film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s made a lot of them and if you’ve seen even one you have a feel for it.  As it opens, it’s gritty and has that look to it.  I think Kaufman wants to trick the audience into complacency because as it goes on characters start breaking unwritten rules.  They do not react how you expect them to, they do not react in the way society dictates is normal.

What is clear from the beginning is that Caden Cotard is lonely, unhappy, and ill, and throughout the film this state increases. Nobody can help him, even when he asks for it.  His family abandons him.  His doctors shuffle him around not solving the problem.  His therapist just tries to sell him books.

What oppression is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?  – Bahá’u’lláh

Cotard has no clue, and so he pours himself into his art.  Art can be a wonderful thing.  It can uplift the soul.  It can increase knowledge.  But what Cotard does is essentially use his art for his ego.  He wins this prestigious MacArthur genius grant right when his life is falling apart and thinks it can redeem him.  Instead his play becomes him playing God and recreating his life over and over again, getting deeper and deeper into himself and his neuroses and it doesn’t work.  He finds no solace.  He finds no audience.  He finds no answers.

Cast away, O people, the things ye have composed with the pen of your idle fancies and vain imaginings … Idle fancies have debarred men from the Horizon of Certitude, and vain imaginings withheld them from the Choice Sealed Wine. – Bahá’u’lláh

Instead decades go by, he ages as he suffers and as his relationships disintegrate more and more due to his inability to view the world outside of himself and outside of his pain.  He becomes completely self centered.  There is a glimmer of hope near the end when he and Hazel finally work out there issues, and she states what may seem like a throw away line, but I think reaches at the heart of the matter about how it was the first time she’d seen him think about someone other than himself.

And finally the true ending when he is too tired of all his directing and decides to play another role, to step into another person’s life.  It is here that he can see that another has pain, another disappointment, and he can finally find comfort in feeling for another, rather than himself.

Millicent Weems: What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It’s yours. It is time for you to understand this.
– From the film

And I think this is why I had such a problem with the film, why it did not sit well with me, and that’s because this is a half truth.  It reaches the culmination of understanding that we are all connected, that we are all unified and we need to get over the ego of self, but it only focuses on the negative, on the disintegration.  This is everyone’s experience, but not everyone’s complete experience and because of this it is bleak.

Where is joy? Where is beauty? Where is love? Where is God?  The word was only first mentioned an hour into the film in passing, and then indirectly and derogatorily by Hazel “We send the kids to Christian school.  It’s Derek’s idea, I don’t believe in that stuff”, and then in the end at a funeral when a priest preaches pretty much the exact opposite message that a cleric would.  This is a world without God, without religion (in the true sense of the word), and it shows.  It shows in all the social dysfunction and ill portrayed in the film.  People are amoral.  They abandon each other.  They use one another.  They cause each other suffering. If this is everyone’s experience than what are we all doing wrong for it to be this horrid?

Some people argue that this is the world as it is, and on some level they are right.  People have abandoned the teachings of the great faiths, have stopped fearing God, stopped loving God, and stopped following God and in doing so have created even more pain and suffering.  They have corrupted many forms of religion and turned them into self-serving political machines, or an isolationist club, in the image of themselves instead of God’s so that even labeling oneself religious does not necessarily free you from this Kaufmanesque view of the world.

Instead if we distill the message from the major faiths it is this: Love.  Put others before yourself.  Humble yourself.  Be compassionate.  Show this love through deeds.  Love everyone, even the people you don’t like, nay, especially the people you don’t like because it’s not about you, and it’s not about your opinion. They probably need the love even more so.

We can hardly blame Cotard because he was not shown love so he could not really learn how to love.  He is constantly looking for someone to follow, but has no adequate model.  However, this is why we have the examples of Buddha, of Jesus, of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l Baha.  They show us what true selfless love can be so we can follow there model, so that the world won’t devolve into Synecdoche, New York.

synecdoche |siˈnekdəkē|
noun
a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland’s baseball team”).

-from the Apple dictionary.

In this case of this film Caden Cotard represented the whole.  Let’s change that.  Let’s make it one of these great teachers, who shows us how to love, and how to suffer with grace instead of despair.


Food Inc. — The Ethics of Eating

Film:

Food, Inc. 2008

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Drawing on Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, director Robert Kenner’s documentary explores the food industry’s detrimental effects on our health and environment. Kenner spotlights the men and women who are working to reform an industry rife with monopolies, questionable interpretations of laws and subsidies, political ties and rising rates of E. coli outbreaks.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to thank the reader who voted in the poll and suggested this film.  Secondly I would like to advocate that *everyone* watch this.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix Instant.  Watch it now.  Ok, on with the post.

Robert Kenner begins this documentary saying that the food industry has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000 and that his hope in creating this documentary is to “pull the veil back” and show people how they are really eating and where there food had come from.

Remove the veil from their eyes, and enlighten their hearts with the light of guidance. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This is a veil that I myself have been pulling back slowly but surely over this past decade, and it is quite shocking and disheartening.  Our food industry has become so industrialized and so far removed from those consuming the food that it’s interests no longer match those of the consumers.

In this documentary there were several interviews with farmers and one shared some statements that I thought were pretty profound that I would like to share with you. First:

“Industrial food is not honest food.  It is not produced honestly.  It is not priced honestly.  There is nothing honest about industrial food”

As we know truthfulness is the foundation of all virtue, and without it there cannot be justice.  The industrial food system is so highly subsidized that the food can be sold below cost.  This puts pressure on both independent farmers, as well as farmers outside of the US who cannot compete because they don’t have these subsidies and can’t sell below cost.  Also, the cost to the environment is not factored in to these industrialized methods which are not as ecologically sound.  E Coli was not a problem before this system.  These hidden costs are dishonest.  The food industry also uses undocumented workers who they can pay cheaply, and treat poorly.  It is the workers who are punished if caught even if the industry purposely goes to Mexico to recruit them.  Chickens have been manipulated to grow three times as fast but in doing so their bones can’t support their weight so they can barely stand.  This is also unjust.  How can we treat people and animals so cruelly? As the farmer so aptly put it:

“A culture that just views a pig as a set of protoplasmic structures to be manipulated will probably view other people in its community, and the community of nations with the same controlling type mentality”

Or if you prefer Holy Writings:

Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. We, truly, have prohibited such treatment through a most binding interdiction in the Book. Be ye the embodiments of justice and fairness amidst all creation. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Eating food is something we do everyday, three times a day.  How can we do so with integrity?  With justice?  Over 100 years ago Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle and that changed our food industry for a time.  People demanded better regulation.  But that system broke down as the food industry became more powerful.  Also, the cheaply subsidized food is not the healthiest food, but instead commodity crops, and has led to the epidemic of obesity.  At the end of the documentary the filmmakers list several suggestions as to how we can work together as a society and as individuals within this society to combat this problem.  Here are three:

You can vote to change this system. Three times a day.

Buy from companies that treat workers, animals, and the environment with respect.

If you say grace, ask for food that will keep us, and the planet, healthy.

It is up to us.  We can be the change we want to see in the world.  Those who can afford to, to vote with our wallets and support ethically grown food.  Doing so is better for us, for our health, for the world, and for peace.

My friends have also posted a wonderful blog on the topic of ethical eating.  Check it out here.