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?

 

 

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How To Be Alone — Succumbing to Loneliness or Embracing Solitude

Go out from the solitary place like unto a shining star blazing on its horizon. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I discovered this video on a post from SoulPancake and it spoke to me so I decided to share it with you.  I have always be more comfortable being alone then most people I know but perhaps its because I’ve had more practice.  I go to restaurants alone with a book, and am willing to go to a concert or a movie I want to see, even if nobody will go with me.  That’s not to say that I necessarily want to be alone, and there are times when I’m lonely, but I am used to being alone and comfortable being alone and embrace it.  And there are there are definitely times when solitude is refreshing and can lead to growth, through study, prayer, or contemplation.  But it can be scary.

I think we are conditioned to think it’s weird to be alone, to be single.  Or rather, it’s ok to be alone in private but weird to be in public.  But when you move across the country and don’t know anyone you have to start somewhere, and perhaps it’s the fear of being alone that keeps people from taking big steps like that.  Humans are social creatures.  We are not solitary creatures and we strive for companionship.  That being said, when faced with being alone one can be sad, or one can embrace it.  There are ways to connect with humanity even if you happen to be alone, and there are ways to connect with strangers that can only happen if you are alone to begin with, and I think this film speaks to that.

500 Days of Summer — What is love?

I figured in the spirit of Valentine’s Day I would pick a romantic comedy and look at how it deals with this confusing notion of love. I picked this film because of it’s tag: “This is not a love story.  It’s a story about love.” Enjoy!

Film:

500 Days of Summer, 2009

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

When his girlfriend, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), unceremoniously dumps him, greeting-card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom (Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begins sifting through the year-plus worth of days they spent together, looking for clues to what went awry. As he recalls the good and bad times he spent with the commitment-phobic girl, his heart reawakens to what it cherishes most. Marc Webb directs this uncommon love story.

My Thoughts:

This film is about these two people, and deconstructs their relationship.  But more importantly it is about this fuzzy notion of love as these two people blindly explore what it is and what it means.  One enters the picture believing in destiny and soul mates and the other enters cynically not believing in love at all, only wanting to have fun.  Near the end their positions on the subject have switched.  However neither extreme is correct.  Neither of these ideas is right.  There is no such thing as a soul mate in the destiny, only-one-for-me sort of way, but love most definitely exists.

Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the diverse elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation.    ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

At one point Tom is so fed up with love after having his heart broken that he quits his job at a greeting card company blaming the industry, as well as romantic movies, for his unreal expectations.  It is a comic scene but there is deep truth to it.  Just as Summer pointed out that over half of marriages end in divorce (which is why she doesn’t believe in love), our culture has gotten incredibly confused as to what love is, and because of this miss it.

Love is a verb.  It is an action, specifically the act of putting someone else’s needs before your own.  It is something we all should be doing everyday because we should love everyone.  But for some reason we’ve got it into our heads that romantic love is something else, some magic feeling or state, and that once that feeling is gone it is okay to be selfish again.  We fear commitment because we fear the magic leaving, instead of recognizing that we have an opportunity to show love most greatly in a committed relationship.

The Lord, peerless is He hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each of each other.

If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favor in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at ever moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the Heavenly Realm.

Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as Two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This is what a true soul mate is, but it can be anyone, not just one person.

I think that many of the reasons relationships falter is that humanity is spiritually seeking God but often does not recognize it.  They want eternal, perfect, unconditional love, a love that God can only give, instead of the imperfect, yet beautiful, attempts we humans do.  We turn our significant others into idols whom we worship, and that is not healthy.  When these people turn out to be mere mortals instead of the gods and goddesses we’ve made them out to be the foundation of the relationship is shaken.

This film does a great job of showing just that.  It also shows how much pressure is put upon the person who is being idolized to live up to the impossible standards.  I am glad this movie was a story about love instead of just a love story because these are conversations we need to be having.  The way we think about love, the way we talk about love, and the way we show love is broken.  We see it daily through acts of violence, through dissolution of families.  But through art, through deep contemplation, we can be inspired to change how we view love, to make it the verb it is.

The first sign of faith is love. The message of the holy, divine Manifestations is love; the phenomena of creation are based upon love; the radiance of the world is due to love; the well-being and happiness of the world depend upon it. Therefore, I admonish you that you must strive throughout the human world to diffuse the light of love.

The people of this world are thinking of warfare; you must be peacemakers. The nations are self-centered; you must be thoughtful of others rather than yourselves. They are neglectful; you must be mindful. They are asleep; you should be awake and alert. May each one of you be as a shining star in the horizon of eternal glory. This is my wish for you and my highest hope. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

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.

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED — Innovation, Hope, Cooperation, and Hardwork

Film:The Future We Will Create Movie Poster

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, 2007

Starring Daphne Zuniga, Al Gore, Rick Warren, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant, Marjora Carter and others.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Hailed “the hottest gathering in the world” by Wired magazine, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual event where an eclectic group of brilliant minds exchange bold ideas for the future. Actress Daphne Zuniga is your host on this all-access tour of the conference. Guests include former Vice President Al Gore, musician Peter Gabriel, environmentalist Majora Carter, as well as comedians, authors and innovators from around the world.

My Thoughts:

I love TED.  I had never heard of this conference nor this documentary about it before NetFlix recommended it and I am so thankful it did (I am beginning to see a theme here… I promise not to gush too much about NetFlix any more… I just as frequently discover great films from my library and from friends).  Ok, back to the point.  Apparently TED is this great conference by invite only, in which technical innovators, scientists, artists, and social advocates come together to both speak about what they have been doing as well as to help each other achieve their dreams to better the world. The people who attended TED seem to live this mantra:

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“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi
All these ideas were mind blowing.  There was an architect there who was working to design open source plans for developing countries so that they can build safe, efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive homes, schools, and clinics.    There was a medical scientist who had helped with the UN mission to eradicate smallpox and was now working on preventing a bird flu pandemic.  There was an 11-year-old violin virtuoso, and a beat poet.  The found of one laptop per child.  The list goes on an on.
There was such diversity of thoughts, of methods, of action, and yet such love and respect for one another here.  Whether scientist or artist, religious or atheist, these people all came together with the goal of changing the world for the better.  They were united by a common purpose which reminded me of this beautiful passage:
Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
What I didn’t realize was that Bono’s One Campaign was born from TED.  And even though the conference is invite-only, it is not exclusive but has an outward orientation.  Anyone can access and watch the speakers from their website.  This film of the conference really made me beam because it speaks to how much through education, hardwork, and cooperation we really can work together to solve the World’s problems.  This conference was all about unity.
So powerful is the light of unity that it can envelop the whole earth.
~Bahá’u’lláh
I can’t help but stress it enough.  Al Gore spoke of global warming which is a global problem.  But Rick Warren, a respected Christian minister also spoke.  Both religion and science recognize the power behind a united purpose.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Ephesians 4:1-6
Or from a scientific point of view:
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“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert Einstein
Perhaps my thoughts have been all over the place, but I highly suggest you check out TED.  The great thing about the conference is that it was a mix of the biggest ideas, as well as ideas that are actually working, on the ground, right now to make the world better.
Your thoughts?

He’s Just Not That Into You — Relationships and Marriage

He's Just Not That Into You Movie PosterFilm:

He’s Just Not That Into You, 2009

Starring Gennifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Connolly, and Scarlett Johansson.

Synopsis (from the movie’s official website):

Based on the wildly popular bestseller from Sex and the City scribes Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You tells the stories of a group of interconnected, Baltimore-based twenty- and thirtysomethings as they navigate their various relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep, murky waters of married life, trying to read the signs of the opposite sex… and hoping to be the exceptions to the “no-exceptions” rule.Gigi just wants a man who says he’ll call–and does–while Alex advises her to stop sitting by the phone. Beth wonders if she should call it off after years of committed singlehood with her boyfriend, Neil, but he doesn’t think there’s a single thing wrong with their unmarried life. Janine’s not sure if she can trust her husband, Ben, who can’t quite trust himself around Anna. Anna can’t decide between the sexy married guy, or her straightforward, no-sparks standby, Conor, who can’t get over the fact that he can’t have her. And Mary, who’s found an entire network of loving, supportive men, just needs to find one who’s straight.

If you’ve ever sat by the phone wondering why he said he would call, but didn’t, or if you can’t figure out why she doesn’t want to sleep with you anymore, or why your relationship just isn’t going to the next level… he (or she) is just not that into you.

My Thoughts:

I am very glad this movie was made, and that the book it was based on was written.  While I may not agree with every point of view shared in it, I think it opens up a dialog that America needs to start having.  After all, our divorce rate is over 50% meaning that something is just not clicking when it comes to forming healthy, stable relationships.  So many of our romantic comedies fuel this notion of “the spark” and do not really address compatibility beyond a superficial level.  While this movie too has it’s trivialities, there are parts of it that head towards that conversation, of how we can improve relationships.

One of the first things addressed in the film is the fact that we all lie to each other. In my last review I talked about the importance of truthfulness and how it is the foundation of all human virtue, and this film also wrestles with this theme.  The film uses examples like “If he treats you badly it means he likes you!”  While these are “white lies” in reality they are not harmless.  They set up up for pursuing or maintaining abusive relationships.  We mean to console and to encourage, but instead we set each other up for bigger romantic disappointment, as well as cause us to spend more time and energy pursuing people that are not right for us.

That being said, we are all beautiful, wonderful people trying hard to live in this world of struggle, and handling rejection is tough.  But there needs to be a way we can encourage each other without lying to one another.  Someone can be smart and beautiful and a good person, and a guy or girl might not be attracted to them and that’s ok.  By saying “You intimidate them [the object of affection” it gives false hope.

The film also does recognize the importance of patience and persistence.  Sometimes you can meet the right person at the wrong time and it is difficult to navigate those waters.  This is why it is all the more important to have friends who are honest with you, that you can consult and learn with, who can balance kindness with honesty.

What I also like about this romantic comedy is that it addresses various stages of a relationship, from the pursuit of one and it’s fragile beginnings, to a long term relationship, to a crumbling marriage.  So many movies of this genre  just focus on the beginning, “the magic spark” and leave out all the other parts.  One married couple has to deal with the pain deception and adultry can bring.  There is a reason why adultry is condemned in pretty much every religion, as well as in secular legal codes, and this film shows the pain it can cause to *all* parties involved, not just the innocent spouse.

It also addresses getting married for the wrong reasons.  Bradley Cooper’s character felt like he had to get married because “If you date a girl too long and don’t marry her you are a jerk”.  Instead he decided to be even more of a jerk by lying and cheating.  His wife clearly did not know how he felt about the marriage or she probably would not have married him.  Sometimes we want a relationship so much we do not even realize that we are settling, or that its foundation is not firm, and that it is doomed for failure.  It is good to see this relationship in contrast with Gennifer Goodwin who is single and wants to find love.  You can see how even if you manage to “trap” one of the guys who are “Just not that into you”, it’s really no good for you in the long run.

There are even more learnings to be had from Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck’s relationship.  They’ve been dating for 7 years and living together a long time but are not married and this is causing angst for Aniston.  Affleck gives the old “why pay $40 for a piece of paper?” line.  It is understandable in this age of skyrocketing divorce rates why someone would be skeptical of marriage, and I too am skeptical of the way most American marriages take place.  That being said, true marriage, what it is meant to be and not what it has been diluted into, is extremely important.  It can help lower anxiety and allow two people to grow and learn together in a safe and committed environment.  Getting that “piece of paper” helps keep one accountable.

Aniston finally has enough and breaks up with Affleck, under the stress of her younger sister getting married.  It is not until her father has a heart attack that she is able to see the importance of good relationships.  All of her 3 sister’s husbands sit in front of the TV watching football.  They do not help with cleaning or with getting food for her ailing father and while her sisters cry and console one another she is left managing the entire house, alone.  When she goes out to the store she returns to find Affleck having cleaned the entire kitchen, and done the laundry.  He was not asked to do this, and they weren’t even together any more, but her loves her and knows that she would need help during this trying time.  She is able to compare her sisters’ husbands to Affleck and realizes that even though he does not want to get married he has a good character.

This is something we do not usually see in films, assessment of the character of the love interests.  Here she is able to see Affleck’s compassion, his level of responsibility, and how good a person he is.  She realizes that their relationship was stronger than most marriages and takes him back.  However, because Affleck has a good character and truly loves Aniston he can learn and realizes how important marriage is to her, so even though he doesn’t “need the paper” because he is committed to her and understands how important it is to her, he decides to propose and marry her.

This also illustrates the importance of communication.  Aniston had felt that way for 5 of the 7 years they were together, but was afraid of losing him and therefore did not speak her heart and instead was living in anxiety.  Love is more than just a feeling, it is action.  Love is a verb.  Relationships are more than just romance, but involve doing the dishes and managing chores, and if we do not address these more mundane aspects it can lead to resentment and relationships crumbling.

While the characters all had various opinions and views on relationships and were at various stages in their lives, they talked and consulted with one another and this is good.  Of course, my big criticism would be the lack of spirituality in any of these relationships, and the secularization of marriage in general.  There is something to be said about recognizing the sacred nature of marriage.  People often talk of sacrifice in marriage, and they see it as compromise, however one definition of sacrifice is to make sacred.

Finding someone that holds the same value you do toward the relationship, and toward marriage is important and this is actually a lesson addressed in the film.  It may seem like a cliche, but many guys are not into commitment.  If that is what you want then pursuing someone who does not share that desire will never work, and this is what Justin Long continually counsels Gennifer Goodwin.  That being said, we should not be disheartened and we should keep Gennifer Goodwin’s hope and optimism because they are not only attractive but lead to a much happier life.