Film director and survivor of the excrutiating impact of post-concussion syndrome, Tom Shadyac, on becoming well, went on a mission via documentary to answer two great philosophical and theological questions from a variety of angles. The premise is the example that dark nights of pain–physical and emotional–can lead to transformation and an impetus to not sit still, sit silent, sit complacent in the world but move in a direction of goodness and change.
He asked these two fundamental questions of scientific, historical, and sociopolitical minds:
What is wrong with our world?
How do we make it better?
This director who made movies like “Ace Ventura”, “Bruce Almighty”, and “Liar, Liar”–two out of three which I think are implicitly morality tales in their own right–takes on the subject of humanity in much more direct, much less laugh-out-loud kind of way. This documentary is the story of a man looking for meaning out of trauma, which is what we all do after the worst happens and we make it out–beginning with the unforgettable Victor Frankel and his “Man’s Search for Meaning”.
The impetus of near death or extreme pain (not that I compare the magnitude of Frankel’s to Shadyac’s–but to each of us our own hell is distinct and incomparable) makes us ask the big questions, and, hopefully, makes our lives fuller and lived with more accountability than before our personal tragedies or sorrows. It can go either way. This movie is an honest and earnest attempt by Shadyac to do good in the forum he knows best–film.
The movie also, to my nerdish bliss, discusses some of the neurobiological and psycho-physiological discoveries made in the last few years which describe our connection and relationship with others and our world at a scientific and measurable level. They discuss mirroring neurons, the vagus nerve, and the concept of heart math–all three being elements I have studied in learning the neurobiology of trauma and why some experiences are particularly healing for the repair of traumatic experience.
Below are a series of quotes from Shadyac and his interviewees that stood out to me as pinnacle points about how we live our lives, how we were made (biologically and divinely) to be more, do more, and give more. It also discusses at a biologically level why it is in our best interest to be better. I apologize for the places I do not have the direct source of the quote within the movie for every quote–it was hard to keep up with a constellation of gems to ponder.
ON DARWIN & THE WESTERN APPROPRIATION OF “Survival of the fittest” :
“We fashion our world on the idea of needing to be significant at someone else’s expense.” by Lynne McTaggert, journalist
“Be suspicious of what you want…Plot to get what you want and you end up in prison.” Rumi (the Sufi poet)
“When Darwin wrote The Descent of Man he mentioned survival of the fittest twice, and he mentioned love 95 times. He talked a lot about…conciliation, cooperation…Golden Rule…the world is both cooperative and competitive.” Marc Ian Barsch, author
[Darwin] He said sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. “
THE BIOLOGY OF COMPASSION:
mirrored neuron (found in apes and dolphins): “There is something in the brain that doesnt distinguish the self and others, there is something almost mystical about it…when you see someone elses suffering you feel it..that is the mirror neuron.”
vagus nerve: “Chest expannds, elation in your chest …we are hardwired for a compassionate response to the trouble of others.”
heart math: “The heart is the boss.”
“Love care gratitude compassion…we do that for a reason…it is the way it effects our body…it’s the optimal state..this is why anger makes us stupid…whereas positive emotions increased inner harmony, clearer thinking, better performance, its the mode we are, literally, designed to operate from.” Rollins McCrady (from the heart math center)
“It’s confirmed what a lot of the great religions and the philosophers for milenia have been saying that the heart really is the primary access point to what one could call your spirit or higher self.”…regarding heart math and the ability for the heart to preceed the head by 3 or so seconds to know what will happen next (based on study with slides of positive or negative images–heart responds before next slide is on) Rollins McCrady
ON HOW WE ARE CALLED TO BE COMPASSIONATE CITIZENS OF THE WORLD:
“You cant be neutral on a moving train.” Howard Zinn
“There is no such thing as a tiny act…it all matters…Each of us…really do have the power to change the world. –Tom Shadyac
“The truth of human beings is that we are because we belong.” desmond tutu
“Everyone has the power of one…just do something.” CEO
“It will take individuals to get clearly passionate and galvanize others and say it is possible to change.” Desmond Tutu
SUMMING IT UP:
In conclusion, after illustrating the worldly goods Tom had before his accident and the reshaping of his life, values, and motivations, he shows that he has gone from the house with the tennis court and giant pool spanning acres, which he reports never made him happy, and he relocates to a trailer home and a bicycle to get around. He teaches at Pepperdine, expanding this discussion on the principles that can continue this world we live in, and make change in his forum of film making.
Tom says, “I’ve left the world’s carrot.” And he seems happier for it.
While he definitely has a point of view going into this documentary study of the world the compilation of thoughts is at once scientific and inspiring. And, as someone who has read a number of psychological journal articles and attended workshops which discuss the concepts of the vagus nerve, mirroring neurons, and heart math, I can say that the science continues to expand our knowledge of our human selves…and the further it travels the more it takes us back to the root–compassion, love, and kindness is an implicit part of what we were made for (and when we love it makes us feel good).
He concludes with a quote from GK Chesterton when asked what was wrong with the world: “Dear Sirs, I am.”
Shadyac says, speaking of us all, the answer to the reverse of that question is the same. What is right with the world, “I am.”