Sunday 4 November 2007

Head and heart stuff

Here is something I wrote many years ago for the Sunday Times. It is about the head and the heart. It is about Jerry Maquire. And it is about to be re-visited here in an updated and tightened piece.

Watch it again, and again. The main characters are Jerry Maguire played by Tom Cruise and Rod Tidwell played by Cuba Gooding Jr. An amazing transference takes place as we witness two heroes who go on a journey (motion pictures typically feature a hero who goes on a journey of sorts and whose character goes through a transformation, or "character arc"), one learning how to love a woman, and the other learning how to love the work he does. By the end of the film Jerry accepts his responsibilities as a man, and as a husband, and Rod comes to terms with his purpose – he learns to work, in this case play football, from the heart, not from the head.

Jerry undergoes a struggle right at the start of Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece of a screenplay where he realizes that work is the transference of love made visible. You see, Jerry loves what he does, sports management, that is, but he does not like the fact that everything is becoming about money. He cannot reconcile trading quality for quantity. He can’t sleep one night and he gets up and says, "I had lost the ability to bullshit." He sits by his laptop and writes his turning-point memo – the mission statement his company needed: Less customers, less profits, better relationships. He got fired that week.

Rod Tidwell is a man who understands the importance of personal relationships. He loved his wife, brother, and family more than anything in this world. Hence, he was looking for the personal touch in his career – he was a people’s person. After being fired from his "sports factory" Jerry becomes a sports agent with one client and the pay-off line was "In Rod we Trust." Leaving the movie aside for now, let us look at what has happened here. Two people struggle to find balance in their lives. They are deeply spiritual but they each have only half the equation. Life is about relationships, in the home and in the workplace.

This story is about quality and quantity. Jerry and Rod’s character arcs are in the opposite direction. But both are focused on quality. They lack balance though and together this transference in the other direction is facilitated. From work to family in Jerry’s case and from family to work in Rod’s. This is a compelling moment when Jerry says to Rod, "You are a pay-cheque player. No wonder you haven’t got your big contract yet. It’s because you play from the head and not the heart." The message here is about my favourite subject: PURPO$E. Do what you do from inside – play and work with love and passion – do it from the heart - and the entire universe will conspire to reward you!

So, what was Jerry saying in his watershed mission statement. Was he saying we don’t want your business? Perhaps what he was saying is that we want to grow relationships and there are only so many hours in the day. We cannot cheat nature although with technical advances in the area of cellphones and e-mail etc. we continually try. Well, Jerry didn’t buy it.

The skeptic’s movement is growing rapidly, and although sometimes one needs to be cynical at times there are those romantic stories that do come along that really do have things to say based on something more profound than sales, ticket sales at the box office that is in this case. Things that are actually worth listening to. Jerry Maguire is one of these precious gems. No, it's not perfect, and no, it may not uncover truth for every last second of its running time, but if you come away from it with a frown rather than a deep desire to take a step back and look at yourself, then there's no romance in your soul at all.

We all love the movies. Have you ever really thought why though? Sure, there is 2 hours of escapism when your body and mind don’t have to work. But there is more to it than that. Movies that really inspire us present stories where a person, the hero, goes on a journey and transforms from one state to another. Some may learn to love another person, someone may learn to forgive, someone may learn to work passionately, and so on. And this is what we all want in our own lives. We all want to change ourselves and movies present this alternate reality. They allow us to escape into an unreal world and participate on the change we seek in the world. Ghandi once said, "Let us be the change we seek in the world."

Yes, movies can serve to enlighten and uplift the world - Jerry Maguire is one such film that did so. There will be more films like this in the future, especially in a time where so many people are looking for purpose in a pay-cheque. We live in age where people in the Western world are working longer and longer hours. Stress is on the up and up. And there is a growing consciousness towards spiritual identity. People are searching for meaning and motion pictures provide for entertaining detours often with important messages. Like I said, watch this particular film again – I think it will be even more relevant in this millennium.

We always automatically read every story as a metaphor and measure our own performance and behaviour against those of the heroes and villains. Who are the heroes in this compelling movie? And who are the villains? The heroes are those qualitative people. And yes, for those villainous quantitative antagonists, we don’t want your business. Instead we want your friendship, your trust, your passion, we want to concentrate and focus on what is dear. This is the message of this great work of moving art: relationships are the most important thing in the world.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker