good night & good luck – buddhism & standing up for things

my daughter and i just went to see good night and good luck, george clooney’s movie about the mccarthy era. apart from the fact that it is a marvelous movie – great camera and great acting – the story made me think about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

in the movie, people struggle with an oppressive political system (instigated largely by senator mccarthy) that attempts to control people’s thoughts and acts. a man gets fired for reading the wrong newspaper and other (apparently unfounded) unpatriotic activities, and his son is called upon to publicly condemn his father’s alleged anti-american actions. CBS reporters get wind of this and, working against the prevailing political climate, expose the story, which ultimately leads to mccarthy’s demise.

how does that apply to our lives today? what sort of oppressive systems am i dealing with, are you dealing with? are there any people or entitites that attempt to control us? can we find the courage to expose and dissolve this control?

one of the oppressive systems i am dealing with, for sure, is my own system of voices that tell me i’m not good enough, not professional enough, that i should act small, that i need to content myself with limited success, etc. talking about movies – this oppression reminds me of the klaus kinski horror flick crawl space: a hidden, life-destroying, all-pervasive voice which, through a system originally intended for a good purpose (heating/ventilation) , has access to me anywhere. again, this voice can be fought by diligently and courageously seeking out and dealing with its origin.

the buddhist in me says that there are further ways of dealing with those voices. tibetan buddhist pema chodron might suggest to listen to them, acknowledge them and pay attention to how my body responds to them. does my throat constrict, do my knees feel weak? i may be able to walk through these sensations to the light, where these voices become irrelevant.

another buddhist approach might be to realize that these voices are indeed, well, just a movie. a movie i am choosing to watch. they are not reality. the more i realize how much they are just a movie – canned, artificial, two-dimensional, out there on a screen – the more i might be able to realize that i have a choice of whether to watch the movie and how to be affected by it.

4 thoughts on “good night & good luck – buddhism & standing up for things

  1. Marc Olmsted

    I aske myself if I would have been brave enough to write a book called “McCarthyism of the Spirit” back then.
    Interesting that we lament the current oppressive political situation, but Free Speech really has thrived. Can you imagine a Jon Stewart or Steve Colbert back then? And all the spate of damning narratives about the regime in charge? One man–Edmund R. Morrow–and his colleagues, finally turned the tide, and it took until Lenny Bruce for there to be any meaningful protest comedy.
    The most oppressive system I notice in the lives of most people is the universal fear of the perceived judgement of others. This is one of the reasons I pick up trash every day. For all the backpatters, there are a lot of people who wonder if there’s not something wrong with me. It turned out to be unbelievable freeing in my life as a whole when I let go of caring what anyone thought, because I know I’m keeping one set of sewers free of ocean clogging garbage.

  2. isabella mori

    yes, the fact that we CAN have people like jon stewart and stephen colbert is one of the bright spots in our public life. it is what makes america so not iran.

    picking up trash every day sounds like a good spiritual practice – can i say that? reminds me of some buddhist monasteries where only the senior monks clean out the washrooms.

    that’s really inspiring. i’d like to come up with a practice like that, too. and the fact that it helps the environment, what a bonus. but isn’t it often like that? what helps our hearts also helps others.

  3. Marc Olmsted

    That’s exactly what it is, a spiritual practice. It’s a way to live the serenity prayer. I accept the things I cannot change (that people litter), change the things that I can (pick it up) and the wisdom to know the difference is figuring how how much I can do of it and still have a life.
    So I bought a E-Z Reacher to grab the trash, and do 3 blocks worth when I walk the dog in the morning, and whatever park trails I walk with him in the afternoon. And at the end of the day, if I’ve done nothing else, I can always count the bags of trash to fall asleep. Over time, it really adds up. And I live on the ONLY clean street in Hollywood.
    I recommend it most heartily.

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