Self-awareness is a bitch. “Know thyself” is the first commandment for any of us who hope to keep growing and evolving, and this idea of becoming self aware has been very much on my mind lately. One thing I’ve learned is that you never get there. Understanding the id, the ego, the critical voice, or any of the other names we give our subconscious mind is a lifetime job, and a moving target. Just when you think you’ve discovered something about your personality, it seems you unlock yet another cabinet of curiosities buried even deeper in the mind.
Being married. Having kids. Starting a business. Dealing with a client. Walking the dog. Driving in traffic. Events both momentous and mundane have the potential to hold up the old mirror and invite us to take a look at ourselves. Whether we choose to peer in with the goal of objectivity or not is the place where self-awareness starts, at least for me. I do not subscribe to the belief that I will grow to know myself through the teachings of Buddha or extensive meditation. They may be great ways to find peace and serenity, but let’s be honest here: Buddha lived in like, the fourth century, was a member of the ruling class, had an oligarch for a father, and was by all accounts very wealthy. He could afford the leisure to sit and ponder life’s bigger questions; he didn’t have to pick up the kids, clean the rain gutters, run a business, deal with the 10 Freeway at rush hour, get the dog spayed, meet his tax planner, clean the kitchen, read a bedtime story and answer 64 emails, all in one day. I’d like to see how serene Buddha would be at the end of one of my days, after the fifth time the kids got out of bed.
No, I think in our modern world, most of our pondering and philosophizing is done on the fly. We catch glimpses of ourselves as we rush through this world trying to manage our lives. We can choose to shroud those mirrors if we wish. We can bury our heads in social media, or blame others for our stress and frustration. We can avoid looking at our failures by telling ourselves the world wasn’t ready for us, or couldn’t see how great our plan was. We can try to control the people in our lives, as if getting other people to change their behavior is somehow more possible than changing our own. We can find sympathetic parties to validate our view of the big, bad world, and commiserate about, “if only things were different…” But you reach a certain age, and all those little kernels of advice start to coalesce: “Don’t complain, don’t explain.” “Look inward, not outward.”
This is where art comes in. Art can be one of those mirrors. It can be a benevolent one, or a harbinger of a dark future. But at its best, art lets us examine our flaws, seek self-forgiveness, and get inspired about the future. When someone creates a piece of art, they’re putting a piece of themselves into the world for all to absorb, interpret and contemplate. And I believe when an artist is more self-aware, they can make better art. They can connect on a deeper level. They can offer the looking glass that starts a conversation with our subconscious.
I recently saw Steve Jobs. The story behind that movie is interesting, and you can read about it ad nauseam, but the gist is that it changed studios, changed cast members and took a meandering path to the multiplex. And now it’s being criticized for not portraying the man in question accurately enough. The movie is performing way below expectations, financially speaking, and everyone is asking, “What went wrong?”
Well, I’d be rich if I knew what makes a movie a surefire box office hit. But I do have some thoughts for the folks who’ve decided against seeing the film because they’ve heard it’s somehow not historically accurate, or because they think they already know the story of Steve Jobs. And that’s a shame, because those folks won’t give the movie a chance. What a sad fate to work for years on a film – writing, designing, shooting, editing, painstakingly shaping a story and putting your entire heart into every detail – only to have someone say, “Meh…”
In my opinion, the movie gets a lot of things right. At its core, it’s about self-awareness. In the film, the term “reality distortion field” is used to describe the frustrations of being inside Jobs’ inner circle. But this movie is about a man who has been mythologized by the public, the press, and yes, himself; and throughout the film he undergoes the painful, lifelong process of self-awareness. I don’t care how accurate the film is, or if it sticks to the facts. If I did, I’d watch the documentary, read the book, and draw my own conclusions. When I go to the movies, I want to reflect on the human condition in story form. I want to find myself in the shoes of the protagonist, or sometimes, the antagonist. I want to suspend my own reality and be swept into someone else’s worldview. On these merits, Steve Jobs shines. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the film, accepts that Jobs was as much myth as he was man, and found a better story in the moments where Jobs walked the tightrope between those states of being. He used Jobs’ story as a way into the basic questions that titans of industry, celebrities, misanthropes, and geniuses alike must grapple with. He asks the question, if one truly sees the world differently than his fellow humans, how do you navigate relationships? In this film, we come to understand that Jobs’ greatest challenge was to become a more compassionate human, and that is something we can all relate to. Now, I would guess we’re seeing just as much of the inside of Aaron Sorkin’s head and heart, if not more, than we are of Steve Jobs’, but it doesn’t matter! Sorkin found a way into the story that resonated with me, and I could care less if it’s accurate. To me, it is true. And entertaining. And it got me thinking deeply about my role in this world – at work, with my family, and as a citizen. To love your work, and care deeply about the things you make, is to guarantee a full and exciting life. To let that fierce passion for creation and production and domination supersede your personal relationships is the definition of loneliness and failure. We see Jobs struggle with this very conundrum, and we can relate. And then when we shift back to our own perspective, we find it slightly widened. That’s what I want from art.
– Sam Jones, November 2015