Print Posted by Brent Marchant on 12/17/2016

Keeping Ourselves Honest

Keeping Ourselves Honest

When life doesn’t turn out as hoped for, we often scratch our heads in bewilderment. “Why did that happen?” we ask ourselves. That’s especially true when we’ve convinced ourselves that we planned everything down to the finest detail. But do the results really match our underlying intentions?

In situations like this, we need to take a hard look at our beliefs, the driving forces in the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience. But, by “hard look,” I mean seriously scrutinizing the thoughts that underlie our materialization efforts. This requires paying particular attention to the integrity of our beliefs, because that will tell us much about why our plans pan out as they do.

Integrity is a crucial component of our beliefs, particularly in their formation. It’s a marker of how genuinely our thoughts and intents align with the nature of our true inner self and the destinies we’re meant to live out. The more closely our manifesting beliefs adhere to our inherent being, the better they’ll yield outcomes in line with who we really are and what we’re meant to do with our lives (and, one would hope, results that are innately more fulfilling and satisfying). But, if we start to stray from our truest, innermost intents, we run the risk of getting off-track with our manifestation efforts. Even a little “belief fudging” can prove disappointing, because it means we’re not being faithful to ourselves. And, if our beliefs wander far afield from where they’re supposed to be, the results can be disastrous.

To avoid all this, then, paying attention to the degree of integrity associated with our beliefs is crucial. But, if that practice represents unfamiliar turf, drawing on a little illustration can go a long way toward helping to get us back on track, and the examples set by the movies can be particularly helpful. Here are some films that are especially inspiring when it comes to matters of integrity.

Doubts and second-guessing often prompt us to scrutinize what we’ve created, because our manifestations may not seem to match our intentions, at least superficially. However, upon closer examination, we frequently find that we end up precisely where we’re meant to be, that our materializations are indeed faithful reflections of our beliefs, even if they don’t seem to embody the personal integrity we’re supposed to imbue them with. Such is the case in the heartfelt ballet world drama “The Turning Point” (1977), in which a pair of longtime middle-aged friends (and former dance rivals) (Anne Bancroft, Shirley MacLaine) reunite and review the choices they’ve made – be it pursuing their craft (and sacrificing a personal life) or giving it all up to raise a family – to see if their paths were, in fact, governed by their personal authenticity. Their realizations prove eye-opening, even if not readily apparent to either of them initially.

A similar fate befalls an aspiring author (Diane Lane) who’s left broke and alone to start over after a bitter divorce in the life-changing comedy-drama, “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003). Following an inexplicable impulse to purchase a crumbling Tuscan villa while on an impromptu trip to Italy, the struggling scribe envisions a new life for herself, one whose elements even she doesn’t fully understand, until she sees her new existence unfold in truly magical ways – and in line with her wishes – her integrity thus being given life through the new reality she manifests for herself.

Exploring our options when doubts and second thoughts arise is often healthy, a sort of reality check of our beliefs that can help us verify whether we’re truly following the right course. That’s the experience of an uptight groom-to-be (Ben Affleck) who embarks on a wild, unplanned road trip with a capricious free spirit (Sandra Bullock) while travelling from New York to Savannah for his wedding in the romantic comedy-drama, “Forces of Nature” (1999). Will cold feet sway the prospective groom in a new direction? Or will he follow through as originally planned? It all depends on how much he abides by his personal integrity.

A similar quandary arises in the science fiction fantasy “Avatar” (2009), in which a crippled soldier (Sam Worthington) must make a hard personal choice while serving in the private security forces of a mining company on a distant moon. When faced with doing his duty or doing the bidding of his corporate bosses, he’s left to wrangle with a difficult decision, one that forces him to assess his beliefs, particularly where his integrity is concerned.

When we fail to listen to our integrity, we can get ourselves into trouble. By playing around with our sense of personal authenticity, we can unwittingly dig deep holes for ourselves, as a family of serial fibbers finds out in the charming comedy of errors, “City Island” (2009). Comparable results arise in “Big Eyes” (2014), director Tim Burton’s whimsical biopic of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), who defers to her opportunist husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) when he takes credit for her work, all in an ill-conceived effort to keep peace in the family. In both of these cases, the results boomerang on those who fail to heed their own inner voices.

As embarrassing as the foibles depicted in the foregoing films may be, they’re  nothing compared to what can happen when we intentionally disavow our integrity in favor of  manifesting creations that fulfill wholly self-serving ends. This becomes apparent, for example, in the film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel “Howards End” (originally released 1992, re-released 2016), in which the relatives of a wealthy dying matron (Vanessa Redgrave) purposely attempt to undermine her efforts to bequeath her beloved manor to a new, compassionate friend (Emma Thompson), a scheme fraught with numerous ironic pitfalls. Such insincerity also emerges in the biting Italian/French mystical satire “The Confessions” (“Le confessioni”) (2016), in which a suicidal International Monetary Fund manager (Daniel Auteuil) who harbors secrets with global implications feels compelled to confess his situation to a mysterious Italian monk (Toni Servillo) at a G8 summit, an act that raises comparable apprehension among the other ministers in attendance.

Difficult though it may be, paying attention to our integrity sometimes requires us to own up to our shortcomings. But one could also argue that, in the end, acknowledging our deficiencies is preferable to tackling tasks we know we’re not properly equipped to handle. That’s the case for a soft-spoken Roman Catholic cardinal (Michel Piccoli) who’s unexpectedly elevated to pontiff at a Vatican conclave, a prospect that sends him fleeing in fright into the streets of Rome in the Italian comedy, “We Have a Pope” (“Habemus Papam”) (2012). Similar circumstances arise in the Swedish domestic comedy “Force Majeure” (“Turist”) (2014), in which a young husband and father (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) abandons his wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and children (Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren) to save himself from an approaching avalanche while on a skiing vacation in the French Alps, an act that leads to considerable family discord (much of it wryly comical).

At other times, paying attention to our integrity may prompt us into making heavy sacrifices, regardless of how difficult that may be. However, if the choice comes down to being truthful with ourselves (and others) or willingly abandoning our sense of authenticity, the sacrifices we make may ultimately be well worth it. A number of biographical films portray this notion effectively, such as “Fair Game” (2010), the story of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), who was outted in an act of political retribution against her outspoken husband, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), a professionally devastating development that cost Plame her career but that brought highly questionable government practices to light; “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013), the epic biography of  once-imprisoned South African president Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba), who endured years of incarceration for his beliefs on his way to becoming an inspirational leader of his country; “Of Gods and Men” (“Des hommes et des dieux”) (2010), the moving saga of a group of Trappist monks who lived peaceably among Algeria’s Muslim population until civil war broke out in 1996, a conflict that severely tested their faith and spiritual convictions; and “Trumbo” (2015), the biography of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was blacklisted during the 1950s Red Scare but refused to give up on his views – or his craft, even if it meant clandestinely writing under a pseudonym, an effort that covertly won him two Oscars.

The pressures put upon us to carry forward with our endeavors can be tremendous. But, when we know we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we operate from a position of integrity, one that, with sufficient time and effort, is bound to pay off. In “Gattaca” (1997), a genetically “inferior” everyman with dreams of space flight (Ethan Hawke) goes to great lengths to live out his destiny in a society where such ambitions are restricted to those of allegedly “superior” stock. That kind of intrepid determination also drives the efforts of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) in his quest to determine the cause of neurological damage to pro football players, despite serious pressure from the NFL to quash his investigation, in the inspiring biographical drama, “Concussion” (2015).

Achieving success under such conditions can be particularly challenging – but ultimately satisfying – for those operating under the added burden of extenuating circumstances, as evidenced by three films with gay community themes. In Far From Heaven” (2002), a closeted husband and father (Dennis Quaid) struggles to come to terms with his sexuality under the repressive social pressures of life in 1950s  suburbia, a challenge full of its share of disappointments and triumphs. Similar pressures characterize the narrative in “Viva” (2016), which chronicles the journey of an aspiring young Cuban drag queen (Héctor Medina) seeking to make a name for himself while dealing with the homophobic attitudes of his abusive alcoholic father (Jorge Perugorría). And, in the moving biopic “Milk” (2008), Sean Penn gives an Oscar-winning performance in his portrayal of San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk, who overcame prejudice (and the odds) to become the first openly gay politician elected to a major public office in the country.

Most importantly, though, when we follow through on our integrity to do the right thing, we can attain miraculous results. This is evidenced in the inspiring biopic “The Express” (2008), which follows the experiences of Syracuse University running back Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), who overcame racial prejudice and personal challenges to lead his team to the national collegiate football championship. He also became the first African-American to win college football’s coveted Heisman Trophy.

This confident, “can do” spirit also typifies the narrative of “Rosenwald” (2015), the documentary chronicle of Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald, who firmly believed in the notion of “giving back.” He used his considerable wealth to sponsor major philanthropic undertakings, most notably the construction of more than 500 schools in poor Black communities in the American South at a time when most minority children had virtually no access to educational opportunities. Rosenwald obviously didn’t have to do this, but he sincerely believed it was the right thing to do, and the results speak for themselves. Now that’s integrity.

Being honest with ourselves may not always be easy, but, when we make the effort to do so in forming the beliefs and intents we employ to create the reality we experience, we frequently relish the outcomes. Fortunately, we have many good examples to draw from, too, when seeking sources of inspiration. Let’s just make sure we follow those leads. 

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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