“I did everything they told me to! Did you know I build missiles? I helped to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons… you know they lied to me.” - Bill Foster / D-Fens, Falling Down
Both the title and the quote are from an old favorite movie of mine. For any uncultured heathens out there who’ve been living in a cave or remote monastery in the Himalayas for the past two decades, the movie Falling Down starred Michael Douglas as a laid-off, divorced defense contractor in Los Angeles who starts his day like many of us, stuck in suck-ass traffic gridlock. However, instead of sucking it up and slogging through the day like most of us do day in and day out, on this particular day his environment just happens to push him past his mental breaking point. He leaves the car in the middle of the road and decides he’s “going home”. What follows is a journey through the city where he encounters much of the typical crap and injustices that make up our flawed society, and his mental breakdown frees him to lash out at the various sicknesses and problems in society in increasingly violent (and entertaining) ways.
I won’t give away the ending for the few who haven't seen it, but rather I’d like to focus a bit on the quote above, which the main character says near the end. “I did everything they told me to!”… such is the cry of someone who’s been fed society’s false promises all his life, and feels angry and betrayed when he’s discarded and the lie is revealed for what it is. Now think of how many Americans are feeling this way now. Heck, many Europeans too for that matter. We have had an economic recovery of sorts here in the US, but let’s face it; the recovery has largely benefited the rich and connected and left most average workers behind. It’s not surprising, since money printing overwhelmingly favors those individuals and financial institutions closest to the printing press. Sort of a double punch to the gut for the average working stiff or those trying to find work… they not only see it harder for themselves to make ends meet, but at the same time see the ultra-rich get even richer. I don’t want to go into the issue of fairness itself here at this time, but rather talk a little about peoples’ perceptions and expectations, and why it’s important to break free of the falsehoods that modern society is pushing on us.
It is our unrealistic expectations and dreams spawned in part by government's and society's comfortable lies that can be particularly dangerous to our future well-being. As much wiser people than myself have said, it’s not so much the hardship itself but rather a person’s response to the hardship that plays the biggest part in the overall outcome. One’s reaction to hardship and ability to handle adversity in life is going to be impaired if one maintains a mindset and expectations that run counter to reality. Instead of accepting what’s happening and working to figure a way around or through it, people clinging to unrealistic expectations and dreams that are shattered or unfulfilled or way out of reach are likely to get wrapped up in denial or anger or despair, all of which gets in the way of solving the problems we face. And in many cases, it makes the problem worse. Think of the visibly well-to-do family with fancy cars and expensive things that suddenly experiences a job loss, yet insists on supporting their lavish lifestyle by borrowing money rather than cut their expenses and change their expensive habits. Or the completely unprepared person living in a hurricane-hit area that afterward refuses to take personal action to improve their situation because they insist that the government will fix things and provide for them, and as a result get sick or hurt through their own inaction. Or the young man or woman who takes out close to $100K in student loans to get a degree from an expensive college, and after graduation and finding no work decides to double down and go even further into debt for a graduate degree in the same field hoping that things will be better when he/she gets done with grad school.
Now this is not about giving up all one’s dreams or hope for the future… it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s about being open to new information and being willing to challenge one’s assumptions and expectations. It’s a matter of flexibility and willingness to adapt, and not blindly accepting popular wisdom. And it’s about getting to know oneself and finding what one really wants out of life. How many of the unrealistic dreams and expectations that people hold on to are ultimately pushed on us from external sources? How many of us would be happier if we turned off the TV and ignored the people telling us what we are supposed to think and supposed to desire? Freeing oneself from the comfortable lies of the status quo and re-aligning one’s dreams and expectations is ultimately a positive message. How can one be truly happy trying to live their life according to someone else’s expectations? If more people would only undergo some self-examination and let go of their fear of change and the unknown, most would find goals and dreams for themselves that are far more fulfilling than what our society is impressing upon us.
Going back to the movie, it’s obvious that the title character had certain rigid assumptions and expectations about life, work, marriage, etc. that led him to and beyond the breaking point when he realized they would never come to pass. Granted the character had a predilection towards anger, but that was not the cause of his breakdown, merely the means through which the breakdown expressed itself. How different would his life have turned out if he had come to accept the loss of his marriage and his job, and tried to find what made him happy rather than constantly dwelling what he couldn’t have? Rejected what society said was expected of him and tried living life differently? Perhaps all he needed was to move to the Caribbean and run a surf shop or be a tour guide, living the rest of his life without a lot of money yet happy and relatively stress-free….
…. Of course then again, perhaps he would have decided to blow a hole in an excursion boat full of obnoxious, whiny cruise passengers and pelted them with bloody chunks of fish as they floundered in shark infested waters. Sequel anyone? ;-)