Tuesday, January 5, 2016

May The Force Be With You

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, many of us were introduced to a new story that would change our lives forever. If you happen to know a Star Wars fan, you know that I’m not exaggerating. If you don’t know a Star Wars fan, well … For one thing, that doesn’t seem very believable to me. How can you not know any Star Wars fans? I have a hard time grasping the idea that you might not be a Star Wars fan, but that you might not even know any fans? Odd. Anyway, if you really don’t know any Star Wars fans, trust me, I’m not exaggerating. These last few sentences might have given you a clue.

I love Star Wars. As a huge fan of big world-building invented realities, Star Wars has always been one of my favorites. In fact, it is quite possible that my love of that galaxy far, far away is part of how and why I developed such a fascination with those sprawling fictional universes. Star Wars was certainly one of the first for me, and it has been one of the most enduring. I was there for the original trilogy, and followed numerous books, comic books, video games, additional movies and TV shows, and all kinds of other additional fun-filled visits along the way. Now we have a new installment in the movie franchise, and it is lighting up the world with Star Wars love once again in a big way. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a fan.

The basic idea underlying it all is one that has a surprising amount of real world application. It is, of course, highly unlikely that you will be using the Force to levitate objects or choke an enemy (or nuisance, that Force Choke seems to get used on nuisances far more often than on enemies), but most of us are familiar with thinking of our emotional being as a pool of energy that ebbs and flows, gives and receives. Some of us are more in touch with it than others, and some need more training. It can be used for good or ill. The Dark Side often seems easier and with more immediate results, but tends to blow up in your face and really make a mess of things eventually. The Light Side requires patience and hard work, but will reward you with a positive, healthy life. It also just happens to be present in all living things. “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." The movies may have exaggerated a bit, but they didn’t exactly get it wrong.

In the movies, the choice is very stark: you are either of the Light Side or the Dark Side, but even in the movies it is often hinted that it may not be quite so simple. “Because there is good in him. I've felt it.” Much of Luke’s activity in the latter part of the original trilogy is based in the belief that things aren’t necessarily black and white, or, at least, that decisions once made can still be unmade. Made again in a different direction? At the very least, Yoda may have overstated things when he said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.” In fact, proving that statement to be wrong, demonstrating the hope and possibility of redemption is a huge part of the original trilogy. Remember that Vader was supposed to be the next best thing to evil incarnate. He was a very bad man who did very bad things, most of which were only hinted at in the movies, but we see him come back to the Light in the end, however brief that return may have been. You can do good and you can do bad - and most of us will do a bit of both, from time to time - but you can also change your mind. You are not required to stay with the decisions you have made in the past.

That is not to say that you aren’t required to accept the consequences of the decisions you have made in the past. Vader died as a direct result of his decisions and changing his mind about those decisions. That is a pretty solid consequence, but there can be many others, even less tangible. You don’t have to be who you were, but you do have to clean up your own mess. If who you were involved some bad choices, cleaning up that mess may even be required in order to truly change who you are. Who we are today is a direct result of both who we were yesterday what we decided to do about that. Partial decisions will only lead to partial results. If you are going to be a better person, you have to address whatever was preventing that from happening.

The Dark Side is insidious and seductive. Once you start making bad decisions, it becomes more and more easy to keep making bad decisions. I have a feeling that’s what Yoda actually meant. It isn’t that making that decision will dominate your destiny, but that it will be difficult to undo and will become more difficult the further along that path you go. And, of course, teachers love to exaggerate for effect. It’s practically part of the job description.

Making one bad decision usually won’t destroy your life, but it can make it easier to make additional bad decisions. Living isn’t black and white, but it is best to focus on the Light whenever you can. It works that direction too. Making good decisions usually ends up making it easier to make additional good decisions, and over time it can act as a sort of vaccine against the bad ones. If you are scrupulous in developing good habits, you will be far less likely to fall prey to bad ones.

Good lessons can be hidden in the best places, and I think it’s great that some of my favorite movies also include some of my favorite lessons. We can learn from anything, but it’s even better when learning is fun. Remember that the Dark Side is a lie. It may look easier, but it won’t give you the better results. You may not be using the Light Side to levitate friends and teachers, but you can use it to lift your own spirits and be a better person. That’s ultimately what it’s all about, right?

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