We are stubborn. We are stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge and tackle the dark side of our existence. Ibsen claimed that we spend our entire lives struggling against the dark side of our souls. But I doubt that we struggle all that hard.
Listen for instance to most descriptions of our families or our country. We stretch the assets of our families and countries beyond the recognition of those fair observers outside those particular boundaries. Were this habit simply a harmless delusion, then it would hardly be worth mentioning.
But to habitually wear our favorite rose-colored glasses diverts our energies away from problems that exist despite our unwillingness to recognize them. We acknowledge problems primarily when they assault us, not exactly the scenario for reflective problem-solving.
As I write, the U.S. news organizations are focused on 12 sniper victims in Dallas. Certainly those lives are important. At least as important is the symbolism associated with gun deaths, threats to authority, and disrespect for difference. But something is wrong with that focus.
As Sam Harris never tires of telling us: 9 million children die each year before they have lived a mere 5 years. If he is correct, almost 25,000 children died before reaching their 5th birthday in the last 24 hours. That statistic is not just a fact; it is horrible, beyond imagination, and dwarfs in importance the problems typically reported on the news when problems infringe on our daily lives.
And why do we focus on real, but relatively epiphenomenal human difficulties rather than the immense ones? Ignorance in part for sure. But in addition, we just do not wish to hear about such things. They are too big to consider.
Consider the low probability of success for a film like TAKE THIS WALTZ. In some sense you have seen this film several times. 3 decent people in a romantic admixture. Which man will the woman end the movie with? But this movie opts to spend a discordant amount of time on the agony, frustrations, and disruption caused by the eventual choice, actually any choice that would have been made in this scenario. We see and feel the negatives associated with the situation. It is not fun to watch. But the film is so honest; I am sure the producers knew full well that ticket buyers were not going to rush to see the resulting anxieties, pain, and disappointment. As one person leaving a movie with Nancy and me recently said after seeing a similarly honest movie: But I wanted to see something happy.
Another illustration of our concerted denial of our darker spirits is the years of struggle Nicholas Cage experienced to find producers for LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Those who turned the film down thought it was fantastic. But they told him “no one will want to see this.” Why not? It is about alcoholism as an internal monster that transcends simple counsel, like “Just stop drinking.” The resulting agony asks us to think about the dark side of our being and what that human attribute means for forgiveness, responsibility, and the limits of grit.
Our mental acuity requires recognition of our naivete and contrived happy faces.