Friday night I unplugged from the world, sat down in front of the TV, and watched Tomorrowland.
It’s a hugely enjoyable kids film – full of jet-packs, flying cars, androids, steampunk gadgets… In many ways it has the feel of 80’s movies like Back To The Future, or Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but whilst those films are classic enjoyable nonsense, Tomorrowland has at its core a much more interesting premise.
Though it takes much of the film to get there, Tomorrowland ultimately asks the audience this intriguing question; do we live in despair and fear because the world is a terrible place… or is the world a terrible place because we live in despair and fear?
So I went to bed, on Friday night, having watched a light hearted Disney movie, with an interesting message, and completely oblivious of what was happening just a few hundred miles away.
I woke up to a world once again shaken by terrorism.
Typically my first thoughts weren’t for the victims, or their families, but for myself; Did I know anyone who lived in Paris? Anyone I cared about? Imagine how I felt when I suddenly realised… I did.
For near on three years now my brother has been travelling the world. And a few weeks ago, just after he’d stopped in England for my birthday, he set off for Paris, where he’s been ever since.
He’s fine by the way.
But he was just four miles away from the atrocities that took place.
As the world spent the weekend focusing on the events of Friday evening I found myself wondering whether, as Tomorrowland suggested, we have indeed engineered a massive global system of negative thoughts and actions that have in turn resulted in a downwards spiral of violence and hatred. In essence, our darkest fears have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is that possible?
I think it is.
If you believe that your actions are the direct result of your thoughts, then surely your thoughts might, in part at least, be reactions to those things happening around us – things that are in turn the result of other people’s actions.
So, for example, if we choose to live in fear, based on the seemingly ever more frequent incidents of crime and violence and hatred that we see day-in-day-out, pretty soon we’re locking doors, adding layers of security, and closing borders just to feel safe. But with all that extra ‘protection’ we’re suddenly even more suspicious of those we don’t recognise, and it becomes even easier to believe that our neighbours, those kids on the street, those weird looking people down the road, they all might be up to no good. Think like that for long enough and pretty soon our actions cause those folk to feel victimised, excluded, unwanted – which just breeds resentments, and anger, and ill feeling – until one day is it any wonder that a handful of lost souls stock pile weapons, strap bombs to their chests, pick a cause from the many available, and lash back at a society that’s brought them nothing but pain and heartache.
Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that the people responsible for Friday night’s acts of terror had any kind of justification. They are – were – monsters. But I also wonder if they’re symptoms of a world that’s unintentionally put fear in charge of everything we do?
It seems to me that there will always be monsters in this world. Always. But maybe what the world needs isn’t fewer monsters – maybe it just needs us to be better people.
There’s a moment in Tomorrowland where the villain, played by the excellent Hugh Laurie, says these sad words;
“In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. You dwell on this terrible future and you resign yourselves to it for one reason; because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.”
But he’s also wrong.
Because I’m 47, and until recently it hadn’t even occurred to me that thoughts – mere thoughts – could be that powerful. Yes, it’s easy to believe that the world is a terrible place, but only because it’s not immediately obvious that doing so might actually be adding to the problem. In a world where social media gives everyone a voice, we’re often told to be careful what we say. But perhaps we need to start sooner than that; perhaps we need to be careful what we think.
I leave you with these wise words from Casey Newton, heroine of Tomorrowland, played by Britt Robertson.
There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?
The one you feed.