The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac

atkins-bookshelf-moviesFrank Pierson, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and of the Writers Guild of America, encouraged filmmakers to make films that touch the soul: “Movies are to our civilization what dreams and ideals are to individual lives: they express the mystery and help define the nature of who we are and what we are becoming… Go and tell stories that illuminate our times and our souls, that waken the sleeping angel inside the beast.” Tom Shadyac, accomplished director of blockbusters like Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Liar Liar, and The Nutty Professor, did exactly that when he wrote and directed the illuminating and thought-provoking documentary “I Am: You have the power to change the world.”

Shadyac was riding the wave of enormous success in the movie industry, when his life changed dramatically — a near-death biking accident left him with a long-lasting depression that forced him to re-examine his life and career. Shadyac sought the wisdom of some of the greatest spiritual leaders and thinkers of our time to find inner peace and eschew the life of materialism, power, and avarice. Shadyac walked away from a life of luxury to live a simpler life, and share what he learned about himself and humanity. “I Am” is his love letter to humanity. The film is powerful and has the power to transform lives. Speaking to fellow screenwriter Arthu Kanegis, Shadyac discusses the responsibilty of the filmmaker and the documentary’s message: “Much of what we’ve created around us is not reality, it’s just an illusory world of stuff and things and power. We often say that when we go to the movies we’re escaping reality. I happen to think that we are diving into reality. The world of movies often wakes us into the reality of connection, love, struggle, and challenge. So I know the power of movies is profound and I’m honored to be a part of the storytelling process… It’s quite moving and humbling to hear [that my movies transformed people lives], especially with my current movie “I Am,” because it asks you to rethink things. Some people have had scales fall off their eyes and they’ve seen things differently, and they’ve said their lives have changed.”

In “I Am” Shadyac sets out to answer two questions: 1. What’s wrong with the world? and 2. What can we do about it? The documentary focuses on interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, David Suzuki, Elisabet Sahtouris, and Thom Hartmann who share their fascinating insights. The title of the documentary comes from a letter written by the British author and theologian, G. K. Chesterton. In 1908 The Times of London asked notable authors to write an essay on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s was the shortest essay received: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.” Below are some of the insights from the documentary.

“Harder still it has proved to rule the dragon Money…  A whole generation adopted false principles, and went to their graves in the belief they were enriching the country they were impoverishing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Plato once wrote: “All wars stem from the comforts of the body.” Meaning — we’re always trying to avoid unpleasantness. We always want to pad ourselves, so we need more stuff. To get more stuff and protect that stuff, we have to make war — whether it’s an actual war or an “in effect” war, like the rich against the poor. 

Centuries ago, people believed in monsters. But now we have another monster — and it’s called the “economy.” If you read the Wall Street Journal, they treat the market and the economy as a living, breathing entity/thing/creature. The market is not some natural force of nature. We created the damn thing. I think the heart of the problem of our world is the separation of humanity from the natural world and the sense that the economy is the most important thing in our lives and in the world. We have been taught the need to feel significant at the expense of someone else.

Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris shares a wonderful story about the time she met the Dalai Lama. Someone in the group asked the Dalai Lama what is the most important meditation we can do now? Without any hesitation he answered: “Critical thinking followed by action. Discern what your world is;  know the plot, the scenario of this human drama, and then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world. And each of us must do something that will make our heart sing, because nobody will want to do it with us if we are not passionate and inspired.”

What is mankind’s basic human nature? Cooperation is considered high value in primitive culture; competitiveness is not valued. In modern culture, competitiveness is valued; cooperation is not a high value. However, based on several animal studies, we can discern that the basis of human nature is democracy and cooperation — it is in our DNA…  Darwin wrote that sympathy is one of human’s strongest instincts. However as his work was popularized, this observation was virtually ignored.

Nature is very clear: one fundamental law that nature obeys — one that mankind breaks this law everyday: nothing in nature takes more than it needs.

Read related posts: Religion vs Spirituality
The Wisdom of Pi Patel

For further reading:
Elisabeth Sahtouris on Crisis As Opportunity: Living Better on a Hotter Planet (DVD, 2007)

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