You’re not a good person because you don’t drink, or because you don’t eat meat, or because you recycle your garbage. It’s not as simple as getting rid of bad habits or being true to doctrine.
This endless parade of experts dishing out well intended advice on how to optimize your performance in bed, how to maximize your productivity at work, how to stay fit at any age – but for what? A life of neverending self-improvement, full of furious potential, signifying nothing?
Late last night, slouched on the couch, remote control in hand, I zapped through the TV landscape. There were a couple of options: Discovery channel was showing a documentary on Future Weapons, Fashion TV had the latest swimwear trends for 2009, and then there was Turner Classic Movies. I switched back and forth, but kept coming back to TCM. The color and atmosphere in these old movies is enchanting. You just have to catch another glimpse, like at a beautiful woman passing by on the street.
That night TCM broadcast the 1958 movie “Cat on a hot tin roof“, with the glorious Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, pictured above in a scene of marital crisis. Newman plays son Brick, who is destined to inherit his father’s massive estate. But Brick is a troubled soul, who fights his demons with large quantities of whiskey. Worse, he snubs his wife in the bedroom and seems hesitant to establish a family of his own.
The inevitable confrontation between Brick and his father, Big Daddy, plays out during a get-together at the family ranch. With Brick drunk and Big Daddy suffering from “spastic bowels” (a euphemism for cancer), they chase eachother around the house, pleading, confessing, trading accusations and insults, thrusting and parrying like bulls. The son lectures his father on hypocrisy and sincerity, the father ridicules his son for his refusal to accept responsibility.
The father is a fat hulking tyrant, the son a hopeless drunk. But they don’t argue about diets and 12-step detox programs. They argue about what it means to live a good life. They argue about purity and sacrifice and love.
We do not need more experts to tell us how to indefinitely preserve ourselves like pickles. We need experts like Big Daddy and Brick. Flawed experts, who argue with us and confuse us and convince us, about what it means to be a good person, and who remind us of our shared destiny.
We need experts who remind us that the expiration date on our packaging is not a threat. Instead it is a promise – a promise of freshness and fitness for purpose.