On the way out of a movie the other night a friend of mine heard a group of people analyzing and having deep discussion about it. Later, he asked, “Why can we have an experience, like a movie, then be willing to breakdown every aspect of it- yet it’s not reality? Why can’t that happen more for things that matter? Politics? Health care?”
So… why can’t we have more interesting and interested conversations about real issues? You know- the kinds of talks that go deep, thoughtful and intense, where you actually open yourself up to ideas, learn something about yourself, another, an issue or a possibility. Perhaps your perspective on something actually gets altered or shifted to a new insight. Why don’t we have more of those about real things that matter? This is a question I wonder about and get impatient with quite alot. Of course the election is upon us, and there are lots of conversations being had- but they’re not quite the exploratory kind like this, are they? While I think it’s all amplified in this season of elections, I do think there are a few factors that apply all the time…
Something like a movie is really safe to talk deeply about- because it’s not reality. Even one as layered as, let’s say- Inception- we can go into an intense and exploratory conversation about it, and analyze it ad nauseum in a very perceptive way together because ultimately- we’re still just talking about something imaginary- not personal. In fact, I think a movie done well gives people a pretty cool platform for us to look at life and ourselves from another perspective, and possibly really weighty questions, problems, issues we wouldn’t otherwise go into- so deeply on our own, let alone with others. It’s all safe, because in the end we’re removed from it and talking about it theoretically. Sort of like it can be so much easier to advise someone else on their obvious issues than it is to talk as openly about our own. To me, a good movie makes me think about things in reality and my life which I then can reference as a parallel metaphor. Metaphors are awesome, because they give us a way, an image, a mirror with which we can see patterns and make some kind of sense of things through something else which is more familiar. Inception gives us a point of entry into a pretty deep conversation/question- a way to talk about subconscious human motivation, influence, perceived reality, etc… while most people might not jump right into a conversation with me about those topics cold, without the movie as a safe entry point.
As for real issues like politics and healthcare and things that actually matter- I think (especially right now, obviously) that there’s usually (but not always) a distinct motive and intention in those conversations which really colors the whole thing. They usually happen either with people who clearly agree with you or people who don’t. That’s just where we are. On most of these issues, people see a distinct right way and wrong way, and often the point of the conversation is to BE right and to make someone else wrong (either directly or by default). The problem there is that right turns into righteous, and then we’re not really having a dialogue anymore. Maybe I’m naive, but to me the irony is that every political policy, idea or tagline started from someone trying to solve a problem, and brainstorming creatively to explore possibilities in order to even get to what we see in the end. Yet- by the time we‘re discussing it, we’re working with the final answers they came up with and just smacking those back and forth, not the ideating generative process of problem-solving to actually get to the heart of it.
Here’s my salty side, (which you won’t see from me too often, so take it or leave it)… I also really believe that we’ve been so brainwashed and conditioned by polarizing, distorted media (FOX, MSNBC) and the people who watch it religiously as “news” (I can now spot them easily just by how they reference issues or people) that people really can’t distinguish opinions from fact anymore. I believe that every liberal should watch FOXNews for 10 minutes and every conservative should watch MSNBC for 10 minutes just to get a reality check on themselves- in looking at how the other side distorts it all so egregiously but reports it as fact- just to see the nonsense we feed ourselves, too. That’s why I like watching comedy satire news- because it makes such a mockery of that stuff which takes itself so seriously.
Howard Wilkinson (Cincinnati reporter who’s covered politics for 30 yrs) captures it well:
“When I started, you had Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other. They would argue the issues all day long, but at the end of the day it was all over. It was like the old story of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. They would call each other names all day long for the national media, and then in the evening Tip would take his limo down to the White House and they’d sit there and drink Scotch all night. Now it’s like blood sport, and no one gives any quarter. When things become that ideological, that rigid, then of course nothing is going to get done….It’s people talking past each other. And a lot of this is fed by the cable news networks with the talking heads, who keep those fires burning… they find the biggest flame-throwers and put them on…”
I keep talking about how much I can’t wait until this election is over mostly because of this very dynamic. Although I’m passionate about my own beliefs, with the spirit of the debate afoot, I’d much rather watch and discuss a movie. Soon enough, this year’s election will pass and we’ll get to whatever then next “normal” will be.
Meanwhile… I think the question is- can we have truly have conversations that matter about real life issues and challenges that matter as easily as we can a movie, and do it without that edge we’ve been feeling for the last month? If someone knows that your purpose in the conversation is to convince them of something, the listening stops.
I think we can analyze, go deep and truly explore ideas and solutions together, yet it’s a kind of dialogue for which most people don’t have a model. And can be tough when we feel strongly about something or know that someone else might too. That said, I think it’s important and completely worth learning. How about expanding our perspective, learning and understanding as we explore into questions and new layers together? Sign me up. And best of all- we can cause moments of real insight about things that really matter in our lives, as we truly connect with each other meaningfully in the process. It’s all in how we frame it.
In the words of Socrates…
“The object of our discussion is not that my words may have victory over yours or that yours may triumph over mine, but that between us we can discover the perfect truth.”