There are so many lies to combat in our society, it’s easy to start sounding grumpy about it all.
I mean, who could possibly have a bone to pick with Dori, the winsome little fish in Finding Nemo?
Charmingly ditzy, likably clueless, the perky blue fish sings, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!” as a reminder to all of us to Never Give In, Never Give Up, Always Keep Trying, and Don’t Even Think About Quitting.
And while there’s nothing wrong about this message of perseverance — because being patient, sticking to a project, getting up when we fall down — is an absolutely terrific quality, the truth of perseverance can also be twisted into meaning something that it doesn’t. Like this:
“Work smarter, not harder!”
“Think it. Dream it. DO IT!”
“It’s all up to you — if you quit, it won’t get done!”
American Media Pop Culture Business Seminar-Speak puts an incredible amount of pressure on ordinary human beings to do extraordinarily impossible things, and one of the results of watching too many movies is that we Believe We Can Fly: poor, ordinary, hardworking people with a dream can get there with no more than that dream and gumption, because this happens to schmucks in the movies all the time. They don’t need money, they don’t need connections, they don’t need to compromise convictions in exchange for a push to the next step on the pyramid — they just keep on swimming, sometimes in slow motion, in tandem with an inspirational musical score, and they Make It!
If we watch too many of these movies (and, as a culture, we do), read too many of the How to Become a Millionaire Books written by existing millionaires, and repeat bubbly mantras as our inspiration for getting out of bed in the morning, we distance ourselves from reality, and actually sabotage the very dreams we are seeking to fulfill. When difficult circumstances hit — and they do hit — we spend so much time and energy berating ourselves for not overcoming them (“I’ve got to be Smarter! I’ve got to work Harder! I’ve got to BELIEVE!”) that we don’t review the sheer difficulty of the circumstances, and ask ourselves if it might be better to stop. Wait. Think. Consider. Look at a different route. And, for those who acknowledge the existence of God, ask Him for help. (Ironically, it is this latter that is considered the preposterous, nonsensical, Impossible Thing.)
There is nothing wrong with pursuing an inspirational story as far as we can and discovering elements that the “Based on a True Story” movie conveniently left out: the kid who started his business in a garage had a dad with industrial connections; the savvy financial guru who gives the impression that all it takes, to become like him, is to follow his advice, had several failed businesses before he hit upon the idea of marketing to a very specific, very credulous audience; the man who performed stunningly improbable physical feats never actually did perform them, but wrote that he did — and that’s all the producer needed to know. Seriously, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
But if we don’t recognize this, and try to fulfill our dreams by methods used by imaginary people, or people who exaggerate their experiences, we are doomed for disappointment, and no matter how much we keep swimming, all we result in doing is tiring ourselves out. By acknowledging the likelihood that much of what we are told is fantasy, we are free to use our intelligence, energy, and perseverance to seek out, discover, and work with the truth. And the truth, much to the consternation of the myth-makers, has a disturbing tendency to set people free.
Think. Question. Analyze. Wonder. Rest. Consider trusting in God. Dream. Work hard. Acknowledge our limitations. Brainstorm. Cut ourselves some slack. Seek out truth.
And stop believing in the movies.
Read more on this subject in Why We Shouldn’t “Just Keep Swimming!”
The artwork in my articles is by Steve Henderson, a fine artist who creates work that inspires, encourages, and brings joy. View his original paintings at his website, and see his licensed prints at the online retail establishments below: