Wisdom of the Jedi
In spite of the ill-advised introduction of midichlorians into the Star Wars universe, the wisdom of the Jedi continues undiminished. Obi-Wan and Yoda are great teachers (their failure with Anakin notwithstanding) and many of their sayings are applicable not only in the sub-creation of the Star Wars universe, but also in our real world. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Wisdom, He Seeks...
Luminous Beings are We, Not This Crude Matter.
This is one of the most hopeful things we can believe: that there is more to the world than what we can see, and that when we stop breathing, we don’t stop. Most people believe this, in one version or another, even though there is no empirical proof. We know what happens to our bodies; we don’t know what, if anything, happens to our souls, spirits, or whatever it is that makes us us. Heck, we don’t even know for sure if there is a soul. But it’s a comforting thought. Luminous beings are we. All of us.
Size Matters Not. Judge Me by My Size, Do You?
Of course, this quote is easy to joke about. It’s one of the top ten things Yoda is thought to say in bed, for example. But it’s an important truth that we often make snap judgments based on first impressions, and they often turn out to be wrong. Substitute other physical traits (color, for example) for the word size. And it works in ways that may surprise you. The big burly defenseman on the varsity football team might just be a poet. The woman in the leather jacket with all the tattoos might be a physicist. Both of them might be Star Wars fans. You never know.
Luke, You’re Going to Find That Many of the Truths We Cling to Depend a Great Deal on Our Own Point of View.
Many people will condemn this as moral relativism, but it’s not. Bear with me. Consider the relationship that most people have with their parents over time. We start out worshipping them, during our teenage years the relationship becomes…complicated in various ways, and by the time we’re adults with kids of our own, our relationship with our parents has settled down to a more understanding one. Mark Twain is supposed to have said something like this: “When I left home at 18, I was convinced my father was an idiot. When I returned home at 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in three years.” It’s all about our own point of view.
Is it wrong to eat animals? For the folks who live in a place where edible plats are abundant and varied, maybe so. But for folks who live in places where edible plants do not grow, animals that can convert grass and tree bark into milk, cheese, and meat may be the only dependable source of food. Is it wrong to water your lawn? If you live in the desert, where water is scarce, it may be wrong even to have a lawn in the first place, much less to dump precious water onto it.
More Jedi Wisdom
In My Experience, There’s no Such Thing as Luck.
What Obi-Wan means here is not that there is no such thing as a fortunate happenstance. Rather, he means that fortunate happenstances occurr in direct proportion to the time one spends training and preparing. There’s another saying, this one from the real world, attributed to many different successful people from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Goldwyn. It’s this: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” The Jedi know this as well.
Who’s More Foolish: the Fool or the Fool Who Follows Him?
This is a classic put-up-or-shut-up line. It’s the perfect way to get the whiners in your workgroup, your committee, your team, whatever, to either quit complaining and cooperate, or else start offering constructive suggestions backed by effort. It could also seem to backfire, if the whiners think, “Hey, yeah! I don’t want to be a fool and follow this fool,” and then quit. But has it backfired, really? If a non-contributing whiner has quit your team, are you really worse off than you were before?
Anger, Fear, Aggression: the Dark Side are They.
When we make decisions based on unthinking rage or fear, we get all kinds of bad outcomes. We see this throughout our recorded history. Most if not all of the atrocities committed on human beings by human beings were the direct result of angry or frightened people acting aggressively against the perceived object of their rage or fear. We are all susceptible to this sort of thing. Sometimes it leads to violence and war. Sometimes it’s more insidious, and leads to quiet infringements on people’s freedoms: little infringements that we hardly even notice, but which we’re too willing to allow for the sake of imagining ourselves to be slightly safer from our fears. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right? But that’s only true until everyone else decides that you’re scary, and you find yourself in the path of their anger, fear, and aggression.
Try Not. Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try.
If you go into an endeavor thinking that you’re going to fail, guess what? You probably will fail. As a musician, I’ve learned that if you brood over whether you’re going to mess up your solo, you’re going to mess up your solo. If you just decide to play it, come what may, it’ll probably go flawlessly. Mr. Miyagi made a similar point when he told Daniel-san, “You karate do, ‘guess-so,’ sooner or later, pwchch, just like grape.” If you try to pole-vault (or some other dangerous physical feat), you probably won’t make it, but if you decide to go ahead and pole-vault, you’ll probably find yourself safe on the mat when it’s over.
Of course, this is not to say that success is merely a matter of deciding to succeed. No, it also requires preparation, training, and doing a whole lot of mistakes (many people call this ‘practicing’) before you do it right. But if you don’t do it with 100% commitment, you’re not going to succeed. You can’t sorta jump off the diving board. You have to dive. Don’t let the fear of failure (or of looking foolish) stop you from doing with your whole self. You probably will look foolish the first couple times you do a new thing (which, I imagine, is why most adults refuse to learn a musical instrument), but once you do it enough, you’ll find that you’re doing it well. So do.
You Must do What You Feel is Right, of Course.
This is an interesting one, because we do what we feel is right all the time. If we didn’t think it was right, we wouldn’t do it, would we? Does a thief tell himself that he’s doing wrong? No, he tells himself that he’s actually entitled to whatever he’s stealing. Sometimes he justifies it by saying he’s stealing to provide for others. Sometimes he thinks, hey, why should this other guy have so much when I have so little. Sometimes he figures it’s not his fault that everyone is so stupid as to let him take their money and pretend to invest it while in fact putting the money in his personal accounts.
When kids break curfew, they don’t think, “I’m going to deliberately break the rules and make my parents both angry at me and worried about me.” They’re thinking, “This curfew thing isn’t fair, so I’m going to ignore it.”
Sometimes we do something and pretend to think it’s wrong, but we really don’t. We pretend that it’s wrong for us to have to pay taxes, for example, but we pay them. We tell ourselves that it’s because we’re under threat of imprisonment if we don’t, but really, we know that if we didn’t pay them, there would be, ultimately, no law save what the richest and most powerful decided upon. And we’d still end up having to pay taxes.
The unanswered question is why some of us think a thing is right when others think it’s clearly wrong? Well, it depends a great deal on our own point of view.
Don’t Give in to Hate. That Leads to the Dark Side.
Hatred leads people to do all manner of bad things to each other. It, along with fear and anger, lets us convince ourselves that depriving others of their freedoms, their property, or their lives is the right thing to do. It lets us round up people who look differently or talk differently or think differently, and tell ourselves that they’re all enemies of the state or foes of liberty or infidels, so they deserve it.
But those who we hate or fear are never villains in their own eyes. The mustache-twirling villain with the evil laugh has never existed outside of melodrama. In a recent radio interview with a journalist who had just been released from Iran, the journalist spoke of listening to his torturer talk on a cell phone with incongruous tenderness. The torturer was talking to his wife, about their child. “Okay, darling. I’ll be home as soon as I finish beating up this guy. Should I pick up some milk on the way?”
Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that the torturer was doing wrong. He was hurting another human being who had committed no crime. But he wasn’t only a government-paid torturer. He was also a husband and father. There is good in him, and perhaps, given the right set of circumstances, he could be led away from the dark side. Hating him would assume that he is irredeemable, which would mean a double loss for humanity. Of course, it may be that someone who does bad things to other people will never be convinced that he is wrong to do so. In such a case, that person must be stopped from doing bad things to other people, but it’s to be hoped that we can stop him dispassionately, without hate.
--I Don’t Believe It. –That is Why You Fail.
“I don’t believe it,” is the thought behind the words “I’ll try.” If you think you can do a thing, that’s no guarantee that you will be able to do it, but if you think you can’t, guess what? You’re absolutely right. If you think you’re going to screw up, you probably will. If you think you’re not going to make the sale, you’re not. If you think you aren’t good enough for the attractive person on the other end of the bar, you aren’t. As mentioned above, faith in oneself isn’t enough to guarantee success. There’s no such thing as luck, after all, and fortunate happenstance depends largely on preparation and hard work. But a lack of faith is enough to guarantee failure. Look what happened to Peter when he went to meet Jesus on the sea, for example. (Matt 14:30-31)
So, whatever it is that you wish you could do, go ahead and do it. If you believe you can achieve your goal, you’ve already gotten rid of the biggest obstacle to your success. If you want to make a movie, start writing the script. If you want to learn to play the fiddle, hit ebay, get yourself a cheap one, and start making horrible noises until they start to sound better. If you want to grow your own food, plant your garden (you probably ought to wait until spring for this one). You can do it. Believe that, and you’re nearly there.
The Jedi Don’t Have a Monopoly on Wisdom
Look, Jedi aren’t even real. They’re made-up characters in a made-up universe. They only say the stuff that George Lucas (or a designated deputy) puts in their mouths. And those writers are no more or less wise than the rest of humanity, on the whole. None of this devalues the worth of Jedi wisdom, though. The writers probably find Jedi profundities in the various holy texts and philosophical treatises that humanity has produced over the centuries. It’s even possible that they occasionally stumble across some wisdom on their own. Who cares? Just as a hunk of gold is no less valuable if you find it in the mud, a truth found in a Star Wars movie is no less true.
May the Force be with you.
* Star Wars, Jedi, Obi-Wan, Yoda, The Force, and for all I know, George Lucas, are registered trademarks of Lucasfilm, ltd. Their use here is not to be construed as a challenge to this copyright, 'cos I'd have about as much chance as Alderaan had against the Death Star in that fight.
**Alderaaan and Death Star are also registered trademarks of Lucasfilm, ltd. I'd sooner kiss a Wookie than challenge that copyright.
*** Wookie is also--oh, the heck with it. George? Please don't sue me. Thanks.