Skip to main content

It Is Up to Us to be Great

In the movie, “The Adjustment Bureau,” ambitious politician David Norris (played by Matt Damon) and rising star ballerina Elise Sellas (played by Emily Blunt), fall in love. All is well until their romance is abruptly interrupted by mysterious forces.

The Adjustment Bureau is a team of men in dark suits and felt hats who pull various maneuvers in an attempt to keep the couple apart. For reasons we’re not clear about, the Chairman (God?) of the Bureau (Heaven/Eternity?) sees trouble with this relationship. It does not fit into his “plan” for either of them.

After a series of odd and sometimes dangerous situations, David Norris, in a clandestine meeting arranged by the Bureau, is confronted by a dignified man in a suit and hat named Thompson who is some sort of senior advisor to the Chairman.

He has a serious discussion with Norris in which Norris is told in no uncertain terms that he is to no longer see Elise. Or else his memory will be erased and he’ll be, well, a blank slate for the Chairman to write whatever he wants on it.

David Norris is not the kind of man to be told what to do. Bewildered by this strange set up he responds to Thompson:

David Norris: What ever happened to Free Will?
Thompson: We actually tried Free Will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire, we stepped back to see how you'd do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries... until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought maybe we just needed to do a better job of teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years, we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910, we stepped back. Within fifty years, you'd brought us World War I, the DepressionFascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point, a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn't fix. You don't have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will...You have free will over which toothpaste you use or which beverage to order at lunch, but humanity just isn't mature enough to control the important things.

David Norris: So you handle the important things? The last time I checked, the world is a pretty screwed-up place.
Thompson: It's still here. If we had left things in your hands, it wouldn't be.

“Humanity just isn’t mature enough to control the important things.” Like the biblical David’s stone, that one hits us right between the eyes.

We might think these days, Would to God, or the Chairman, or Whomever, that He or She would get back control of things and straighten the world out and put it on a more noble path of higher living. Just force us all to behave and stop this exasperating scene of tumult and preposterousness and psychopathy currently running the show here and across the world.

The hard truth is, there is no One, or Thing, or Force, controlling us but ourselves. It’s up to each of us as human beings to treat one another and our world with respect and kindness and reverence. That great line from the brilliant astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, comes to mind: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

If there is a Chairman out there in the cosmos, he has given us the power to form our lives in responsible, beautiful ways. We control our destiny. We make our own choices. There is no one to blame but ourselves if we screw all of this up. Out of moral blindness, out of unchecked selfishness, out of cruelty or inner wounds or broken minds or just messy living, we are the ones who brought us to where we now are.

But, as our Olympians are showing us, and not just ours but all of them across the world, there are innate forces deep within all of us that can lift us into incredible courage, into stunning self-discipline, into noble feats of sportsmanship and brotherhood, into healthy competition, and into community and cooperation that reign down the glories of humankind’s unending potential for greatness, excellence, and incorruptibility.

No men in suits and hats, no Chairman, can ever stop that.

© 2016 Timothy Moody

Popular posts from this blog

The Light in the Faces of Our Incredible Human Family

National Geographic Journalist Paul Salopek is walking across the world on foot to trace the pathways of the first humans who wandered out of Africa in the Stone Age to claim the earth as theirs. His journey will cover 21,000 miles and is estimated to take 10 years. He is four years into his massive expedition and already he has discovered that humanity is mostly kind and generous, welcoming and caring, hard-working and disciplined.
I watched a brief piece about Salopek’s journey on the PBS News Hour this week. I have included a link below.
What is extraordinary about his adventure is his realization that in spite of all the wars and turmoil across the globe, he has learned that “The world is an incredibly hospitable place.” In following the ancient trade route called “The Silk Road,” Salopek has gotten to know a variety of people young and old. And though he has so far encountered a few dangerous situations where he had his water supply stolen, was once ambushed by raiders, and was sho…

Our National Lack of Self-esteem

There is a brokenness in our society, a pervasive moral collapse, a reckless disregard for community, neighborliness, courtesy, and compassion.
Our government leads by this example. Both parties are incompetent to guide us into a more responsible living, into a serviceable structure of humanity. Our leaders are dominated by greedy oligarchs who don’t just want more, they want everything, even if it costs our society its dignity, its soul, even its future.
What is on display here daily is a wretched lack of self-esteem. The loss now influences all of us. We’re all affected in ways that keep us shamed by our actions.
When we feel powerless, aimless, without any higher goals than the accumulation of things and the momentary thrill, we then mute our intelligence. We live by raw emotions—anger, appetite, urges. We don’t think, we don’t consider, we merely react. We push. We disregard. We threaten. We act out. And we fail.
Self-esteem is a learned process. It builds on genuine successes that ar…

Is the Soul Solid, like Iron?

Mary Oliver has a beautiful little poem in which she asks:

“Is the soul solid, like iron?
or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?”

It is both.

The soul, we are told by philosophers, theologians, and mystics, is our essence, the permanence of our true self. It is that part of us that lives beyond death. Or so we are taught by religion. Where exactly the soul exists beyond that, has of course, been long debated.

There are times in life when something deep within us is, as Mary Oliver says, solid as iron and we operate out of some sense of aliveness, confidence, and inner strength. It may be fleeting, but there when needed; or it may carry us through long periods of endurance when we build a sturdy self, confident and capable of our abilities and talents.

This is the work of the soul. This is a part of our spiritual development. This is what enables us to believe there are forces in life, loving and generous and mystical, that nurture and compel us tow…