Sunday, March 22, 2015

Watching Tom Shadyac's movie "I Am"

Official HD Trailer
for Tom Shadyac's documentary
"I Am"

Years ago, Oprah recommended a movie called "I am" by director Tom Shadyac. If Oprah tells me to watch something, I'm going to do so - after all these years, I love her more than ever. I miss her weekday show. It's as if a friend moved away.

 I finally got around to watching the documentary "I am." It was, just as she described, wonderfully uplifting. I recommend it too! The central questions of the film are "What's wrong with the world? What can we do about it?"

Watching it from Turkey, I can't help but see how American the inquiry of ideas is in the film. An American viewpoint celebrates individual achievement above all else. In pursuit of capitalism, world and human resources are to be used in pursuit of the profit of whomever is building a company requiring them. The long-term consequences to the Earth or others isn't ranked as high as the need to continue wealth creation. So this is where Tom Shadyac started out and he shared his travels to a different point-of-view.

The central premise of his new viewpoint (gathered from interviewing some of the most interesting thinkers on the planet) is that we, as humans and species, are all interconnected. In a capitalist society, it's very easy to discount the weak, the elderly, the disabled as non-contributors and to assign them less value. But if they aren't there, what happens to the entire society? Does it continue to exist? 

I reflected afterwards that this idea of non-contributers is so central to American life it even has a number assigned to it: the 47%. It's not a very empathetic point-of-view. People usually spend some time in their life in the 47%, for example, when they are children or an elderly person.

In contrast, I would describe Turkish culture as a hive culture where people assume cooperation with each other in most settings. The capitalist system is an adjustment in the last generation from an older culture of togetherness among people of the same ethnicity. The spirit of competition and zero sum game is a new practice here.

A simple example of how it is expressed is that Western students would hide a bad test score from their peers, but Turkish students share this information openly. Their attitude is geared more toward helping each other rather than competing with each other.

 Another idea from the film is that our emotions have the power to influence events and other living creatures. We under estimate the power of each of our individual acts and how they influence others.

People also live their emotions much more openly here in Turkey and this energy contributes to creating an exciting hum in Istanbul.
I think a Turkish friend watching this movie would say, "Duh. Everyone knows these concepts that we are all interconnected and that our energy and emotions influence the energy of others." Yet, I don't think all Americans do know that, which is why Tom Shadyac's film resonates so much. 

If you judge the systems based on wealth created, the American system is better. Is that the only way to measure individual success? Humanity's success? In the movie, Tom Shadyac gives up this measure for measuring the success of his own life. And he has never felt happier. He adopts more of an indingenous cultures' viewpoint that pursuit of gain beyond one's own immediate needs is considered mental illness.

Watch "I Am" for yourself and ask yourself what your cultural lens taught you growing up. Has it changed as you've aged? If so, why? Do you think that your cultural lens will help or hurt the long-term survival of the species - not only the human species but all other species as well?

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David Pierce said...

In a society without concern for individual achievement though, you may end up with physical surroundings of low quality, as seems to be often the case in Turkey: in my university building here for example, a new building, where I see a lot of shoddy construction and design. It's all a matter of balance of course!

Karen said...

Thanks for your comments, David. I appreciate you adding your thoughts. I agree with you that it is all a matter of balance. Excellence is welcome everywhere.

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