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?
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Victor Victoria — Justice & Gender Roles

Victor Victoria Poster

Film:

Victor Victoria, 1982

Starring Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, Alex Karras, and John Rhys-Davies.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is a struggling soprano who, with help from a fellow performer (Robert Preston), finally finds success by posing as a male female impersonator. But what will happen when a nightclub owner (James Garner) finds himself attracted to Victoria’s cross-dressing male persona and begins to suspect “Victor” is really a woman? This gender-bending musical comedy received seven Oscar nominations and won for Best Score.

My Thoughts:

Firstly, any film which discusses gender roles and sexuality is bound to be controversial, even if it was made over 25 years ago, so before I go any further I would like to preface that whatever your opinion regarding homosexuality is, as well as of people who hold a different view than your own,  please keep this spiritual guidance in mind before commenting:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  ~ Matthew 7:1-5 (New International Version)

and

O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.  ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #26

When I first heard of this musical I thought it would be a mere comedy of mistaken identity and gender swapping, akin to a Shakespearean Comedy, and while it definitely has that feel and element, it also speaks on a deeper level.  In 1982, when this film came out, the United States had just gone through the Civil Rights movement,  Women’s Rights movement, and the Sexual Revolution.  Thoughts about what true justice meant were circulating around public consciousness, and being wrestled and debated with.  This film comes out of that context.

Victoria Grant is an amazing operatic soprano, yet due to the poor economy she is unable to find work in Paris during the 1930s.  She is so down on her luck she even auditions for a burlesque theater, insisting that she has a legitimate voice but the manager replies:

I’m looking for something
a little more illegitimate.

Victoria: I’m sure that with a little practice l…
Manager: Lady. That’s like a nun saying, with practice, she’d be a streetwalker.

However, Victoria is hungry and is about to be evicted so she is willing to compromise her virtue.  Toddy, a Gay nightclub performer, shows her kindness and as a result comes up with the idea that she should pretend to be a drag queen. Victoria is initially skeptical:

Victoria: Toddy, I don’t know how to act like a man.
Toddy: Contrary to the popular conception of how a man acts… there are different men who act in different ways.
Victoria: I mean, as opposed to the way women act.
Toddy: I am personally acquainted with at least a dozen men who act exactly like women…and vice versa.
Victoria: But there are some things that are naturally masculine.
Toddy: Name one.
Victoria: Peeing standing up.

This is interesting to me because it is true that society has carved out roles for men and roles for women and those who do not fit into those roles can feel excluded, or worse yet have assumptions made about them.  We should love all people and should not try to constrain people unnecessarily and unequally (clearly there are some social constraints that are necessary, like punishing theft or murder, but they should be applied across the board, regardless of gender or creed.  The constraints I am talking about here are things like not allowing certain people to pursue a profession based on their gender, class, or creed.)

Apparently there is no market for a woman with amazing musical talent, but there is a market for a man who can impersonate a woman with amazing musical talent.  However there is no man, so now a woman must pretend to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman.

This amuses me.  Truly, it is all about perception.  It should not matter if it is a man or a woman, we are equal in the sight of God, yet for the audience it does.  Perhaps because a man should not naturally be able to sing that high, or perhaps because it forces them to wonder about gender roles.

Victoria ends up being wildly successful but is conflicted when she begins to develop feelings for a man.  If she were to pursue the relationship it would either out her as a woman, or cause people to think that the man was gay.  Eventually they get together clandestinely but it soon becomes a problem:

Victoria: I mean, a woman pretending to be man pretending to be…

King: Well, you can stop pretending.

Victoria: And do what?

King: Be yourself.


Victoria: But, you see, I don’t think I want to. I’m a big star now. I’m a success… And something more. I find it all really fascinating. There are things available to me as a man…that I could never have as a woman. I’m emancipated.

Victoria: Would it be fair for me to ask you to give up your job?

King: lt’d be ridiculous.

Victoria: But you expect me to give up mine.

King: There’s a difference, for Christ’s sake!

Victoria: Right, but there shouldn’t be.

King: Well, look, I’m not the one pretending to be someone else.

I think there are two very different and equally important spiritual truths in this conversation that need to be teased out.  Both Victoria and King have valid points.  Victoria has experienced injustice.  Despite her talent and hard work, as a woman she was not able to find employment.  Also, once she got used to pretending to be a man she realized how much more freedom this lifestyle afforded her (this is the 1930s).  Victoria shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to get work, she shouldn’t have to pretend to be a man to be respected, yet this was the case.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic Hidden Word #2

King is right though about her pretend game.  In the end she is lying, to herself and to the world.  What starts as innocent deception can cause a lot of emotional and social turmoil.  As much as we want to correct injustice we cannot do so by being unjust ourselves.

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

The ending of the film was a bit confusing and unsatisfying, personally, because it did not resolve these problems.  Instead it seemed that Victoria chose to be with King and to give up her career, but maybe she will be able to continue singing now that people love her.  After all they clapped before she “revealed” she was a “man” so hopefully they would still enjoy the beautiful music despite the vessel it is in.

MirrorMask — Our Dual Nature

Film:MirrorMask Poster

MirrorMask, 2005

Starring Stephanie Leonidas and Jason Barry


Synopsis (from IMDB):

Helena, a 15-year-old girl in a family of circus entertainers, often wishes she could run off and join real life. After a fight with her parents about her future plans, her mother falls quite ill and Helena is convinced that it is all her fault. On the eve of her mother’s major surgery, she dreams that she is in a strange world with two opposing queens, bizarre creatures, and masked inhabitants. All is not well in this new world – the white queen has fallen ill and can only be restored by the MirrorMask, and it’s up to Helena to find it. But as her adventures continue, she begins to wonder whether she’s in a dream, or something far more sinister.

My Thoughts:

In the same tradition as Labyrinth or The Neverending Story, this film follows a girl who’s imagination takes her into a fantasy world.  This world is dark and visually stunning, and the the film is bursting with artistic creativity.

The film opens with one white and one black puppet, which turn out to be the girls socked feet.  This theme of black and white, of dark and light, of the good and bad within everyone is explored throughout the film, and merely foreshadowed here.  It is this theme that I would also like to explore throughout this post.

After the puppet show we have the inciting incident, an argument between Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) and her mother (Gina McKee) over growing up and the world of circus life.  Shortly afterwords Helena’s mother is hospitalized and Helena blames herself wishing she had not been so mean.  This incident is processed through Helena’s imagination as we take a journey with her to an alternate world created by her drawings and dreams.

On this journey she soon meets a juggler (Jason Barry):

Valentine: What did you say your name was?
Helena: Helena.
Valentine: Helena. Helen. Helen-nun-nuh… it’s a bit drab, isn’t it? You know, you should think about changing that. Go for something with a bit of dignity and style, mixed with a bit of romance. Something like… ‘Valentine’.
Helena: Why? What’s your name?
Valentine: Valentine.

Valentine proves to be a friend and ally as they journey together to fight the shadow enveloping this fantasy land.  They soon discover the White Queen is asleep and the Black Queen (both played by the actress who plays Helena’s “real” mother) is mourning her lost daughter, the Anti-Helena,  causing the balance to be upset.  These are two aspects of her mother, and two aspects of herself, and we soon discover two aspects of Valentine when he sells her out to the Black Queen for reward money.

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man’s Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint.

~ `Abdu’l-Bahá

Valentine redeems himself and helps rescue Helena, but they fear it is too late, that she may be trapped in this world because the escaped Anti-Helena is quickly tearing down the drawings and burning them.  In the end she makes it back, more aware of the bad behavior in her, and the importance of both forgiveness and apology.   This story is one of growth, and reflection.  We all have masks but what we need are mirrors, mirrors that can help us see how our thoughts and actions effect other people and have consequences.  Helena learns this, and cultivates the virtues of forgiveness and responsibility along the way, and grows to be a better person.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Alexander Pope

Your thoughts?

Vantage Point — An Exploration of Truth vs. Perception

Film:

Vantage Point, 2008
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, and William Hurt.

Synopsis (From IMDB):

President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending a global war on terror summit in Spain. Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) are two of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect him. This is the first action that Agent Barnes has been in since he took a bullet for President Ashton six-month earlier. We really dont know if Agent Barnes is up to the challenge of protecting the President. Shortly after President Ashton is escorted to the stage in the plaza by the Secret Service, he is shot twice by a rifle from a window and falls to the floor. The crowd is in shock and chaos breaks out all over, especially when bombs begin to explode. Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) is an American video-taping the event to show to his children that he was actually there at this historic event. He believes that he has the picture of the man who shot the President. Agent Barnes sees the tape and has a clue to that person. Several different people witness the event, and only through their eyes do we see the truth behind the assassination attempt.

My Thoughts:

This film takes a unique narrative format in that it shows the same event through the perception of 8 different characters and through each new viewing of the incident the spectator comes closer to omniscience.  The first portrayal was from the GNN production truck in which we watched the producer keep track of the several cameras throughout the square.  I bring this up because it is the most distant of the views in that we are seeing the event transpire through a television screen (which it can be argued we are doing already so make it two television screens) and the people watching it have no control over what is happening.  From our limited perspective we can only see chaos.

With each retelling we are forced to re-evaluate what we saw in the previous vision, or what we (and the character) thought we saw.  From one perspective a swaying curtain looks like it could be a gunman, from another it’s just a fan blowing.  One character looks psychotic from the initial perspective but from another they are just trying to sound an alarm and warn of the oncoming violence.

We could walk away from this film thinking it was a good, fast-paced thriller, with a few unanswered plot points, but instead I think that this film is more than that.  It calls us to question what truth truly is.  We cannot believe our own eyes because our perception is limited by our “vantage point”.  We also only have the information of that moment, not always the information of what led to that moment.  It also shows that we are dependent on our perceptions and that when we are called to act fast we have to trust the only faculties we have.  We can’t just sit blindly and depend on others for our sight.

In our own lives how frequently have we seen something “fishy” and judged people because of it?  While people do make mistakes and sometimes have negative motivations (this film was about terrorism after all) I think that our perception isn’t just hindered or limited in those times of crisis, but every day.  God (whether or not you believe) is the only one capable of omniscience, and it is important to realize that if only to remind us to be humble when dealing with our perceptions.

We must investigate truth from more than just our own limited view of reality, and if we confuse what we see, or our own perception for “Truth” then we are bound to compound our mistakes.  We also need to forgive others for actions they take which we do not understand, and remind ourselves that they too our acting on incomplete information from their limited perspectives.

“There have issued, from His mighty Pen, various teachings for the prevention of war, and these have been scattered far and wide.
The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt the mind. But once every soul inquireth into truth, society will be freed from the darkness of continually repeating the past.”
~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

If anything this film reminds us to take pause and to realize that truth is greater than our own bubble, our own incomplete slice of reality.  Even these words I am using can only adequately but not exactly describe the concepts I am trying to convey because concepts our so much more complex than we can ever explain.  Instead we have to make do with what we have- our narrow point of view, our incomplete command of language, our lack of precision- and remind ourselves to collect as much information as we can before judging a situation lest our judgments be misinformed and wrong.  And regarding the ideas of judgment and justice I leave you with two quotes from the Hidden Words which address both sides of this issues- the importance of Justice and yet our limitations when trying to pass judgment:

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.


O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

~Bahá’u’lláh

Your thoughts?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets — The Great Search

Film:

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 2007

Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Dianne Kruger, Ed Harris, Jon Voight, and Helen Mirren.

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) — who found riches and romance at the end of their first hunt for national treasure — reteam with their wisecracking partner in crime, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), for another romp through U.S. history. Now, armed with a stack of long-lost pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, Ben is obsessed with finding the truth behind President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

My Thoughts (There be spoilers this way):

While this film is what you would expect from a big budget sequel to a knock-off of the Davinci code, because the main characters are heroes with a sense of mission and purpose there is actually a lot one can analyze about their choices and the virtues they exhibit, as well as the vices held by the ‘bad guys’.  I am going to ignore all the historical inconsistencies and anachronisms because this is a work of fiction after all, and focus on the metaphor and motivation behind the characters actions.

First off, Ben Gates is motivated to investigate the truth.  He wants to clear his great-great-grandfather’s name from being alleged a Lincoln Assassignation Co-conspiritor with John Wilkes Booth.  Even though in the end of the film a great cultural treasure is found that is not the motivation of Gates’ search.

There are many people throughout their lives who exhibit this quality of ‘seeking’ which the Gates family portrays.  We seek enlightenment, we seek belonging, we seek knowledge, we seek happiness.  Some people are more easily contented than others, and perhaps are not driven by this need to ‘find’ whatever it is they are driven to search for.  In Persia there is actually a famous story of Majnun (the name means crazy) who searches everywhere for his Beloved Layli.  Bahá’u’lláh counsels that:

” One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnún of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnún sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, “I seek for Laylí.” They cried, “Alas for thee! Laylí is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!” He said, “I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her.” Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. “Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it.” ”

I think the Gates’ purity of motive (to validate the truth) and follow wherever it leads (to Paris, London, The Library of Congress, or Mount Rushmore) is what enables them to find what they are looking for in the end.  The writers and producers may not have consciously intended the film to exhibit spiritual consequences, but in order to make a hero act like a hero he has to have those virtues praised for in the religious and philosophical texts that have shaped our world.  When Gates’ and crew actually find the City of Gold in the underground caves of the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are many tests of this purity.

At first there does not seem to be any gold, but just stone carvings in a large cavern.  Gates’, and his mother & father, are curiously trying to investigate, while Riley, Abigail, and Wilkinson (the ‘bad guy’ played by Ed Harris) are distracted by the only gold idol in the whole place.  As they approach it the floor shifts and they are propelled through a trap door into a potential pit of death.

“He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Because the Gates’ Family had purity of motive they hadn’t fallen for the trap, whereas Wilkinson did not, and both Riley and Abigail were temporarily seduced by potential fame and fortune.  Luckily for them Ben Gates’ jumped into the trap with them in order to be of service.  He was willing to endure hardship in order to protect his friends and even his rival.

At this point they all land on a giant square slab.  They soon discover that this slab is balanced on a pinacle and that they must cooperate to balance otherwise they could all fall to their deaths.  Again another moral lesson. Cooperation is necessary in order to survive.

They soon find a ladder that is out of reach, and in order to reach it, they must manipulate the slab to tilt like a see-saw, at great risk to whomever is on the bottom end.  Wilkinson, realizing he is outnumbered and fearful of retribution, threatens everyones life by messing up the balance, insisting he must go first.  They heroes let him, and Ben, realizing that the math works out that somebody has to stay behind, offers to sacrifice himself so that the others will live.

Abigail won’t accept this, and instead finds a giant gold pillar and throws it onto the slab to counterbalance Ben’s weight so that he too can reach the ladder.  This gold pillar was probably worth millions, but Abigail didn’t give it a second thought learning her lesson about value.  By practicing the virtue of detachment she is able to reciprocate and save Ben’s life.

Detachment comes back later when the heroes, the bad guy, and the parents reunite in a drained, underwater palace.  There is no way out except by following where the water drains.  Ben’s father Patrick, without missing a beat, throws some dollar bills into the water to watch where the current takes them.  Sure, you may argue that to save your life you would be detached from riches too, but I think the lack of hesitation is admirable in both the case of the pillar and the money.  The heroes didn’t even pause long enough for the audience to realize what they were throwing away, indicating how purely they were driven by doing right by each other.

In the end, Ben again wants to sacrifice himself to save the others, but through freak circumstances Wilkinson is left in the position to make the sacrifice.  He laments that after all this he will not be able to get the recognition of discovering this massive archeological wonder and treasure city.  Ben assures him that he will tell the world, and does, despite the fact that Wilkinson tried to sully his great-great-grandfathers name.  Again, this shows Ben’s commitment to the truth.  Without Wilkinson’s help they would not have been able to find this place, and though Wilkinson was misguided (he could have just asked Gates to help him instead of motivating him by slandering his family name) he too made the right choice in the end.

Our hero had his flaws, and learned from his partners that his confidence was bordering on arrogance, and that he left others behind when he was mentally steps ahead of them in solving puzzles, but in the end he exhibited a pure commitment to the truth, and a realization of the downfalls of the ego, as well as the importance of cooperation, trust, persistence.

This may have seemed like a popcorn flick on the outside, but with open eyes I think it is not a stretch to see the moral choices and struggles these characters had to go through as well as to think about how we all can exhibit these qualities we revere in our heroes.