Have you seen the wonderful animated feature Bolt?
It’s about a dog who has no idea he isn’t the superdog he plays on TV. He dearly loves his girl Penny who stars in the show with him. But because he views himself as her sole protection against ever-threatening evil, he’s forever tense, forever on guard. Never, but ever, does he relax, play, and just enjoy life.
Only when fate leaves him lost on the streets (far from Penny and without his special-effects superpowers) does he learn to be himself, love life — and become a real hero.
Yeah, it’s just a movie and Bolt is just a cartoon dog. But recent blog comments and email exchanges with a reader make me think some of us could learn from him.
Why do we choose — and it is a choice — to be so freaking grim? Why do so many of us feel that if we’re not at some psychological watch-post 24 hours a day we’re somehow failing in our duty to
Yes, our freedom is imperiled. Every person reading this is well aware of that. We could all list hundreds of threats to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And of course, if we actually cherish freedom, we’ll be doing something(s) to keep it.
But if we actually cherish freedom, we’ll also enjoy what we have of it. And what we have of life. And we’ll balance the “fighting” side of our lives with the “living” side.
Right now. Not in some imaginary future when all the politicians and bureaucrats have gotten out of our way and the handful of remaining laws (if any) are to our personal satisfaction.
But NOW. Because if we can’t embrace our freedom now, when can we?
Saturday the New York Times had a wonderful commentary, “The Brain on Love.” I hope everybody will read it — even those of you who balk at registration.
While the piece focuses on personal relationships, family and romantic, the underlying truth of it is way bigger.
Scientists now know that the brain not only re-programs itself constantly, but physically changes in response to information and emotions we “feed” it. Years ago, the Mankato Nun Study revealed that old ladies who had lively minds and set themselves new challenges went right on functioning, even when autopsies eventually showed they had Alzheimers. Their brains were actually growing around the damage. Their Alzheimer-afflicted counterparts who didn’t “grow their brains” showed more effects of the disease. It was big psychological and physiological news.
Today we know much more — including the fact that our emotions shape our brain, which in turn shapes our emotions.
In other words, if we keep ourselves bundled up in anxiety and watchfulness, anxiety and watchfulness is what we reinforce. It’s what we program — and build — our brains to do. And you know what? If we’re like that, we’d just continue being like that even if freedom dropped on us from outer space.
On the other hand, even if we have a negative tendency born or programmed into us by our past, we have the power not only to change it, but in doing so, to reinforce and “grow” the new positive.
Thousands of activists have discovered that their best, most effective activism comes only after they’re forced to be idle for a while (e.g. they’re sent to jail or prison). Millions of creative people have had the experience of getting the Big Great Idea only after they stop beating their brains on something and take a walk or go to sleep or play with the dog. They change the pattern, begin the rebuild. By turning away.
Enjoying life is not a sin. Blowing off the responsibilities of freedom now and then is not a crime. Ignoring the news is not a dereliction of duty. Failing to duck and cover every time some Internet ranter screams that the sky is falling is not irresponsible or foolish.
Very, very much to the contrary, loving life, keeping a balanced perspective, and enjoying what we have is a means of cherishing freedom, understanding freedom — and building our brains to be better “freedom machines.”
Can it be overdone? Of course, there are millions who live in a rosy oblivion, never seeing the scary stuff and never doing anything to preserve the good they have. Maybe they need to reprogram for the opposite traits.
But we’re not them. If you’re here reading this, you’re not them.
Too many of us are more like Bolt. If we don’t reprogram ourselves to be less grim, less reactive, and lighter in our lives, we’ll go to our graves as nervous — and unfree — wrecks.