Synchronicity. As I sit here writing this, ‘Young Adult‘ is on TV in front of me (yeah, I know, who says men can’t multi-task?) and Charlize Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, is having a conversation with Sandra Freehauf (played by Collette Wolfe) about happiness.
Mavis: It’s really difficult for me to be happy… and then for other people it just seems so simple. They just grow up and they’re so fulfilled.
Sandra: I don’t feel fulfilled. And frankly, if you don’t feel fulfilled with all the stuff that you have…
Mavis: I need to change, Sandra.
Sandra: No you don’t.
Sandra: You’re the only person in Mercury who could write a book, or wear a dress like that.
Mavis: I’m sure there’s plenty of other people who could…
Sandra: Everyone here is fat an dumb.
Mavis: Don’t say that… I mean you think so?
Sandra: Everyone wishes they could be like you. You know, living in the big city, all famous and beautiful and all that.
Mavis: I’m not really famous.
Sandra: Well, you know, special or whatever. Some days when I have a slow shift at work I’ll think about you living in your cool apartment, going out and stuff. It seems really nice.
Mavis: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die.
This is the crux of the whole film. Happiness is relative, and Mavis has been looking for it in all the wrong places.
In his novel, Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction,” and this is the essence of Young Adult. By returning home, Mavis is able to confront the event that sent her off the rails, reconnect with her youthful ambitions, and restart her path into adulthood.
So how does this relate to the School of Philosophy?
This week’s theme was self-knowledge. This is a big topic… Much of our experience of life occurs in the zone where ‘self’ meets ‘other’, or where ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ interact. The world stimulates our senses, exerts forces and pressure on us; while we also respond to those stimuli and exert force on the objects, people and ideas around us.
If we only ever focus on what’s going on ‘outside’ in the world around us, and never have any knowledge of self, we’re only seeing half the picture. We imagine the world is always doing things to us, but remain blind to the things we are doing to put ourselves in that situation.
We discussed some ways of getting to know oneself, such as feedback from the environment and internal reflection. But what are we really looking for? To illuminate this question, we discussed some ways we might describe ourselves that might be changing or unchanging:
- I am tall
- I am strong
- I am a mother
- I am smart
- I am tired
- I am happy.
One astute member of the class, Bec, pointed out the part that does not change is ‘I am’.
As in: ‘I am not completely convinced…’ To me this feels like a cute word game, but I’m not sure if it tells us anything useful about the nature of the self. I’m not even 100% certain the self is a robust concept.
Our sense of an enduring individuated consciousness is largely based on our memories linking together moments in time. But those of us who care passionately about growth and personal development will probably agree the version of ‘me’ that exists now is very different from the versions that existed in the past. So what does ‘I am’ really mean?
‘I am’ not sure I’m much closer to having an answer. But the conversation is fun, the other students are a lively, entertaining bunch, and the home made biscuits are delicious.
Let’s see how week 3 goes.