We have found the enemy and he is us
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. That's the message I got very strongly after watching two of the greatest movies ever made: Raging Bull and Citizen Kane.
They're very similar: both in monochrome, both with fascinating main characters, people who we watch with interest, but wouldn't necessarily like to meet.
Both the fictional Charles Foster Kane and the all too real Jake La Motta had potential for greatness. Both men proved to be their own worst enemy.
For Kane, it was his unresolved need for love and a home. He tried to do good, kind things for people, but in the end it was all so he could receive something back. For "just a movie", Citizen Kane is a remarkable piece of pop psychology.
For LaMotta, his paranoia got in the way of enjoying and building the relationships he needed to succeed. Perhaps because Raging Bull is based on a true story, the movie doesn't try to explain why Jake is like that. He just is. And that paranoia isolates him.
There's so much more to it than just these brief points, but you'll have to watch the movies. But what it made me wonder is - do I ever fall prey to these forms of self-sabotage?
Perhaps at the heart of Kane's and LaMotta's problems is ego. Self-consciousness can tend to make everything be about you - whether that's in self-aggrandisement, using your power to make others do your bidding, or in suspecting others' motives.
My Granddad used to say there were some people who just couldn't get out of their own road. A bit Irish, perhaps, but I think it's an accurate way to describe self-sabotaging behaviour.
My next question was, what do I do if I am sabotaging myself? Surprisingly (although I shouldn't have been surprised) I found my answer in the Bible.
It's very out of context, but will do for me: 1 John 3:18-20.
"18My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. 19This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. 20It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves." The Message
Taking the spiritual side out of that, so as to make this conversation accessible to people of all faiths, this helped me realise that it was a matter of ...
Just Doing It
All along I've heard over and over that love is not a feeling, love is expressed in the things you do. When you're confused, just love. And what's love?
That's in the Bible too. And - very considerately - management consultant Dr. Siegfried Buchholz translated it for the modern corporate world:
"If I could speak all of the world's languages and were a perfect communicator, but were unable to love people, I would simply be making noise, not reaching anyone.
If you love people, you have patience with them and treat them fairly. You do not permanently point out your own good points, or talk down to others. You speak with people, not to them.
If you love people, you can understand their feelings. You do not always seek your own good. You can control your ego, and do not take your frustration out on others.
If you love people, you do not hold a grudge, or repeatedly point out their old mistakes. You are not secretly happy when others fall, but rejoice when they are successful. If you love people, you will not give up. You trust them, believe in them, and give them hope and encouragement."
I love that - pardon the pun - because it gives an objective standard for loving behaviour. You can see it if it's there, and you can see if it's not there.
So if you're stuck or confused about life, measure yourself up against that definition of love. And do some lovin'. Heh... not like that! And not really like "random acts of kindness" either - kindness and love doesn't have to be random! It can be very intentionally incorporated into what we do, how we do it, and who we are.
So that's my answer - probably a grossly oversimplified answer to deep and complex problems of the personality. But at least it's worth trying.
Other thoughts on Raging Bull and Citizen Kane
What amazed me about both films was how popular they were, even when they broke one of the key rules of the filmmaking industry: the audience must like the protagonist.
Just goes to show that rules are made to be broken. And that we humans have a proclivity for watching in bemusement - like all the rubberneckers at a car crash.
Raging Bull was perhaps one of the most traumatic films I've seen recently - but compelling at the same time. Maybe that was because of the subject matter; maybe it was because of the strange beauty coming out of Scorcese's troubled artist's heart at the time it was made. Either way, I enjoyed it in a painful way. Y'know what I mean?
As for Citizen Kane... it is every bit as good as I had ever heard it was. I couldn't believe Welles was only 25 when he let's see... acted, produced, directed and wrote this his first ever film. That just defies belief.
And perhaps this is worthy of another separate post - how the film became a success because Welles had no experience and didn't know what could and couldn't happen. He just had the vision and made it happen - and his team with him.
Welles came from a radio background, and so am I, so in a funny way seeing this movie was like meeting an old friend for the first time. Roger Ebert in his commentary said that if you just hear the movie without the picture, you can still make sense of it. Not many other films you can say that about - particularly the special effects bonanzas we have these days.
On that note - and I am utterly digressing into absolute irrelevance here - people who complain about how special effects have taken the place of plot and character these days should watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I'm a real Trek fan, but that movie was extremely self-indulgent when it came to big scenes of (supposedly) awe-inspiring space scenery going on for what felt like hours. It's never as exciting to the audience as it is to the folks coming up with it. We can come up with it in our heads, thanks very much.
I'm about to qualify that statement, which means a) I'm tired, and b) I have digressed already way too much. I'm off now! See you!