openness

Giving, getting and The Black Panther

by Steve Brock on June 25, 2018

Black Panther poster

I recently (finally) saw the film, “Black Panther,” arguably one of the best of the Marvel superhero movies. At the heart of the film lies this question: “What if you value the richness of all that you own but are afraid to share it for fear that you will lose all that you have and stand for in the process?”

In the film’s case, the fictional African land of Wakanda sits on a reserve of vibranium, a metal from a meteorite that hit the land in the distant past. From this powerful and strong metal, the people of Wakanda have developed advanced technology and a way of life where everyone flourishes. They protect their secret from the outside world until a crisis causes the king and others to question if withholding their knowledge and riches is a good thing.

I’ll let you watch the movie to see how they resolve the question. But for us in our daily lives, we must wrestle with similar dilemmas.

We have a tendency, or at least I do, to hold on to and not share things I think matter most to me. It’s a natural response and seems justifiable until we delve deeper to ask why. On the surface, it seems we’re merely wanting to protect that which we value: creative ideas, material goods, relationships, our platform, reputation or connections or even our faith and core beliefs. But further reflection reveals that all too often, we don’t share because we’re fearful of what others will think or say. We don’t open up because we’re not sure what others may find. And those walls we put up keep us from the very relationships that would share in our joys and foster a greater appreciation of the treasures we hold. Thus, a downward spiral ensues.

The situation in Wakanda isn’t that different. It too reflects an unwillingness to open up or to share. It too stems from fear of loss.

We’ll have to wait for the next Black Panther movie to know how their situation plays out. But personally, here’s what I’ve seen and experienced.

When we step beyond our insecurities and fear and we share — our lives, our faith, our resources, our dreams — we run the risk of being misunderstood, mocked or abused. But if we don’t, we never experience the paradox of giving away that which we most value: We don’t lose it. We gain more of it.

I love this quote by Annie Dillard. I believe it applies to more than just writing:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now . . . Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Instead of hoarding and finding ashes, we can give and find something, new, something more and surprising. What we gain may not look the same as what we gave. And, as in anything related to love, we do risk pain. But the very thing we strive to protect by holding on and not sharing, that almost always withers. Only in giving it away does it blossom and grow to become more than we ever envisioned.

The only way you learn at the heart level about all that you get by releasing and sharing is to practice it. It isn’t easy. It’s not always immediately rewarding. But over time, the results can be stunning.

And you don’t even have to be a superhero to do it.

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It all seems the same

by Steve Brock on February 14, 2014

I have this friend whose taste in music pretty much coincides with the popularity of bell bottoms and the culturally appropriate usage of the word, “Groovy.”

With the exception of maybe a few later Neil Young and Grateful Dead albums, his perception is that nothing good in music has been created post Watergate.

The funny thing is, when I play some more recent albums for him, he doesn’t say, “I don’t like that.” Instead, he condemns the current music with a casual, “It all seems the same.” He detects – or claims to – no discernible difference between The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Switchfoot and Vampire Weekend. I guess they all have male singers and guitars, ergo they all sound the same.

Hmmm.

I find it much easier to be baffled by my friend’s rather limited taste in music than to examine areas of my own life, but alas, I too have plenty of closed doors when it comes to the unfamiliar. I once read an art history book which captured it best. The author commented on how most people, when confronted with contemporary art reply, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” The author noted that a more accurate statement would be, “I don’t know art, but I like what I know.”

We’re all that way to varying. We like the familiar. How much we’re willing to embrace something new has to do with our sense of openness, or, as psychologists call it, our “openness to experience.” As Wikipedia defines it, openness to experience “involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.” To me, it’s really about how willing you are to try something new.

Some people are always open. Others, rarely so. The majority of us are somewhere in the middle. When it comes to popular music, my friend is about as open as an NSA report.

OpennessSo what about you? How open are you to listening to new music? Trying new food? Visiting new places? Meeting people who may be very different from you?

Why it matters is this: Without being open to the new, you may never discover what God put you on this planet not just to accomplish, but to enjoy. That may sound like a grandiose statement, but I think it’s true. I think a lot of people  go through life and miss their true lives by not being willing to stretch beyond the familiar.

What’s the number one regret people in their later years of life have? That they didn’t take more risks. They didn’t try new things.

Don’t wait until you’re too old to try something new. Practice openness. Do something different this week, whether it is taking an alternative route to work or school, trying a new dish, listening to a new music station or talking to a stranger. Just try it. Be open.

Because when you do, you may find something very curious about your life.

It doesn’t seem the same.

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