The words I am are powerful, aren’t they? People from my religious tradition will recognize them as what God gave as his name when Moses asked. I discovered the power of these words during my pre-school playtime as I’d pretend to be Cinderella or Snow White or Dale Evans or Peter Pan.
To remind myself that I wasn’t any of them when I was finished playing, I invented the I am game. I’d repeat I am over and over till I’d realize a shiver of being…me.
So a couple of weeks ago I chose to watch Tom Shadyac’s documentary called I am when we were given a choice in the MKE of two films to check out. As with so many experiences in MKE, this 77 minute experience was life-changing. Not only did I rent it through Amazon Prime and watch it twice, taking copious notes, but I’ve bought it for my library. There’s enormous food for thought here–and ideas to master in order to share them effectively.
Tom Shadyac became wealthy and successful making people laugh. At a young age he had it all–worldly fame, famous friends, mansions, limos, planes, and everything else that comes with being a sought-after Hollywood director. When a severe brain injury that wouldn’t heal left him with weird sights and sounds in his head, he longed to die and began thinking what he wanted to leave as a legacy of what he had learned from his life before he left it. He pushed himself, when he was able to travel, and grabbed a film crew of 4 to criss-cross the globe to interview wise ones to ask two questions he wanted answers to. What is wrong with the world? How can we fix it?
The resulting documentary takes us with him across cultures and continents. We explore with him what it means to be human–specifically, are we made for competition or cooperation, kingdoms or democracies? We learn with Shadyac that science has finally caught up with what indigenous peoples and faith communities have known forever: to be human is to belong–to family, to community. Those who “interpreted” Charles Darwin’s genetic discoveries emphasized only “the survival of the fittest” instead of also noting how many times Darwin mentioned love and cooperation in his writings. How unfortunate.
This is where the word wetiko comes in. The work of Jack D Forbes, who specialized in Native American studies, is acknowledged in the documentary. He says Native Americans “have this word wetiko which means cannibal: one who eats not literally the flesh of another, but who eats the life of another. …We very quickly realized when new people came from Europe they were infected with wetiko, which is a mental illness.” The narrative observes: It’s a challenge to face the culture infected with wetiko. Run, fight or become them.
“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” says actor Michael Douglas’ character in a clip from the movie WALL STREET that plays in the documentary. It not only shows that we didn’t run or fight. We created a cut-throat economy so that a portion of us goes along with, “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionay spirit. Greed in all of its forms–greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge–has marked the upward surge of mankind [sic] . And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Telgar Paper but [also] that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
The documentary fit right into what we were reading from Haanel this week.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION: When the creative power of thought is manifested for the benefit of humanity, we call the result good. When the creative power of thought is manifested in a destructive or evil manner, we call the result evil.
PART 14 To become inspired means to get out of the beaten path, out of the rut, because extaordinary results require exteaordinary means. When we come into a recognition of the Unity of all things and that the source of all power is within, we tap the source of inspiration.
PART 15 Inspiration is the art of imbibing; the art of self-realization; the art of adjusting the individual mind to that of the Universal Mind; the art of attaching the proper mechanism to the source of all power; the art of differentiating the formless into form; the art of becoming a channel for the flow of Infinite Wisdom; the art of visualizing perfection; the art of realizing the omnipresence of Omnipotence.Charles Haanel The Master Key Part 20
That’s what Shadyac did in his Hero’s Journey. He asked What’s wrong with the world? all over the world. In the documentary Shadyac says, “Here’s a true story to show just who we’ve become. Once there was a native tribe that lived in peace and harmony for thousands of years and every day the routine was the same. Hunters would go out from the tribe, and when they returned the bounty from the hunt was shared equally by all members of the tribe. No one went hungry when food was available, not even the weak, the sick, or the elderly. One day, the most skilled hunter said ‘I’m the best hunter! I kill more than my share of deer! Why should I share the bounty of my hunt?” And from that day forward he began to store his meat in a high mountain cave. And then other skilled hunters said, “We kill more than our share of deer, too. Shouldn’t we have the right to keep the bounty of our hunt?” And they, too, began to store their meat in high mountain caves. And then something began to happen in the tribe that had never happened before. Some people, especially the old, the weak, and the sick began to go hungry, while others were well fed. In fact, it became so common place that no one even thought it unusual that some were starving while others had more than what they needed. And what’s even more strange, the tribal elders began to teach their young to emulate the hoarding habits of these few. Know that story isn’t true because it happened. It’s true because it’s happening! We are that tribe. I am that tribe.”
What can we do about it? is his other question. Here’s one of Shadyac’s answers. Along with this resolve he completely changed his lifestyle, sold properties, lives in downscale neighborhoods, bikes to work, teaches and mentors.
Thomas Peter Shadyac (born December 11, 1958) is an American director, screenwriter, producer, and author. The youngest joke-writer ever for comedian Bob Hope, Shadyac is widely known for writing and directing the comedy films Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Patch Adams, and Bruce Almighty. In 2010, Shadyac retired from comedic work to write, direct, and narrate his documentary film I Am, that explores his abandonment of a materialistic lifestyle following his involvement in a bicycle accident three years earlier. He is a former professor of communication at Pepperdine University‘s Seaver College. In 2011, he was a participant in the Conference on World Affairs. In 2015, Shadyac began teaching film at the University of Colorado Boulder, beginning with that year’s Spring semester, Shadyac teaches film at the University of Memphis. From Wikipaedia.
The documentary narrative says, “Nature is very clear on this. In fact there’s one fundamental law that all of nature obeys that mankind breaks every day. Now this is a law that’s evolved over billions of years and the law is this. Nothing in nature takes more than it needs, and when something does, it becomes subject to this law and it dies off. An ocean, a rain forest, the human body are all cooperatives. The Redwood tree doesn’t take all the soil’s nutrients–just what it needs to grow. A lion doesn’t kill every gazelle–just one. We have a term for something in the body when it takes more than its share–we call it cancer.”
I delighted in the dozens of ways Shadyac catches us up on the new science that proves that humans are built for cooperation and not competition. Here are just a few. (1) You’ll smile as they show in a lab that the bacteria in yogurt in a dish in front of Tom mirrors anxous emotions when he has them–showing that everything we do affects invisibly, mollecularly, but REALLY the world around us. (2) Heart Math scientists show on a monitor “the heartbeat and then …this seemingly blank space in between, a pause. It turns out that has a lot of information that can be monitored. And that pause, for example, can tell us what emotional state the person is in. …And they found that positive states, particularly compassionate states are healthy, because these states actually renew our physiology. Love, care, gratitude, compassion–all the things that we tend to associate and label positive we do that for a reason…it’s the optimal [human] state. If the heart is sending a stressful or a negative emotional message or pattern–that literally inhibits our brain. We can’t think clearly…” (3) “The great apes, along with dolphins, and possibly elephants, have something called mirror neurons. And what we discovered is if a monkey observes the behavior that itself has performed it has the same neuron light up as if it itself is doing the action. In other words, there’s something in the brain that doesn’t distinguish between self and other–a very kind of mystical premise in in some ways–but also underlies empathic behaviors. When you see somebody suffering you feel it. That’s the mirror neuron. We’re really geared at a very primordial level to feel what another person feels. Big parts of our nervous systems, our brains, little chemicals in our bloodstream–all are shaped by genes that are there to help us connect, to care, and to cooperate. There’s this amazing bundle of nerves–the Vegus nerve.”
There’s much MUCH more here. But this is how Shadyac ends the documentary. “We started this film by asking what’s wrong with this world. We ended it up discovering what’s right with it. The science of connection and unity. The universal nature of compassion and empathy. The mystery and magic of the human heart.
“When GK Chesterton was asked by the LONDON TIMES to enter an essay contest and answer that same question: What’s wrong with the world? He wrote the following: “Dear Sirs. I Am.” And in response to his response I write “Dear GK. Bingo.”
“Howard Zinn says you can’t be neutral on a moving train. And it’s true. None of us are neutral. We all cast our vote each day by what we do and don’t do. And yes the moving trains today are still hunger, human rights, war, and the devastation of the natural world. But there’s another moving train. It’s the new world that’s being born… “And here’s the good news for all of you on that moving train. There’s no such thing as a tiny act. The way you greet someone. The joy you experience in nature with family, friends, and strangers. It all matters. The science is clear. Each of us and the hundred trillion crazy, weird, miraculous cells that make us up really do have the power to change the world.
“When I was facing death I wanted to tell you what I know. This is it—that all things are connected and one. And as long as we continue to treat each other, even our enemies, as separate, we will continue to have exactly the same world that we have. There is a way out of this and it’s also shorter than GK Chesteron’s letter: LOVE. Now that’s not Utopian. It’s real. It’s scientific. It’s in our DNA. So now I ask one more question. What’s right with the world? Here’s to the hope that one day we can all answer that the same way. I am.”
Dear Tom. My response to your response to GK’s response: I am…less and less what’s wrong with the world. And more and more doing my part to fix it. Thank you for inspiring me with your power of one. And agan, thank you, MKE!