Another Time

The exhaustion of readying for a move has taken its toll on our television habits. Rather than seeking out series that will keep our attention for multiple evenings, we have attempted to find brief injections of entertainment that require no long-term intellectual commitment. To some extent, we have succeeded by choosing to view documentaries. Documentaries typically are short, succinct, and focused. Yet in spite of their condensed nature, they tend to breed ongoing contemplation. Our brains do not shed documentaries’ “stories” the way they tend to shed pure entertainment. Pure entertainment does not settle in and build probing, intellectual nests, encouraging us to contemplate the message and its relevance to our lives. Documentaries are designed to encourage just that: “what does this mean and how should it affect our behavior, going forward?” So, was the decision to watch documentaries instead of “pure entertainment” a good one? Hmm. Good question.

I wrote about the documentary, Cowspiracy, a couple of days ago. Last night, we watched A Farewell to Ozark, an engaging documentary about the series and its effects on the cast and crew and the audience. Though light and entertaining, it prompted me to think more deeply about the way the series was created and the way its core stories were crafted and honed. But, then, we watched another documentary that, like Cowspiracy, sparked in me some intense introspection. Last night’s thought-provoking film, entitled Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things, was an apropos thought-engine during the throes of moving. During the past several weeks, as we have shuttled thousands of things we own from one house to the other, my mind repeatedly locked in on the sheer volume of “stuff” we seem to think necessary for comfort or contentment, AKA happiness. Minimalism visits the degree to which acquisition—of both material “things” and conceptual achievements like job titles and more voluminous living space—can be counterproductive in the search for contentment. With the wisdom accrued during a night’s sleep, I think the documentary was only modestly well-done, but its message was brilliantly crystal-clear, in spite of its mediocrity: we readily allow marketers to deceive us into believing happiness can be measured by what we acquire. This is by no means a new idea, either to media presentations or to my own thought-processes, but the documentary reinforced ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a long, long time.  Those same ideas have rattled around in the heads of the people featured in the documentary. The difference is that they took deliberate steps to climb off the treadmill and focus on elements of their lives most important to their happiness.

Will my tryst with minimalism lead to a more intimate relationship? Only time will tell. I would like to think so, if only because I think Happiness is easier to identify when it is not surrounded by imposters dressed in tailored silk suits. If I look closely, I may see Happiness dressed in a loose-fitting kurta made of an unassuming, comfortable cotton.


I try to put myself in the place of people who were close to—maybe best friends with—Jeffrey Dahmer or Adam Lanza or Payton Gendron (one of the latest mass murderers who used race as justification for his savagery). Would the sudden knowledge that these good friends of mine were, in fact, monsters utterly and completely destroy my faith in humankind? Would I ever be able to completely trust another human being? Would I ever be able to have even a little trust in another person? I do not know. I suspect it would be hard to believe in the inherent goodness of anyone after someone close to me engaged in such hideous acts. As I think about the matter, it occurs to me that I might lose faith, first, in myself. In my ability to see the person behind the mask. In my ability to judge whether a person is fundamentally good or fundamentally bad. It would not help that many, many people would question my innocence because I knew this person. It would not help to be suspected of somehow aiding and abetting my friend’s behavior. Or, at least, turning a blind eye to “obvious” clues about the perpetrator’s plans. Ach! But what if those beasts’ friends really were “in the loop” and could have done something to prevent the murder and mayhem they caused? See, it’s hard to be both compassionate and empathetic while simultaneously suspicious and skeptical.


I have more on my mind. But, no, not for now.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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