I was in the supermarket recently, and a guy in his mid to late fifties walked past me with a shopping trolley full of giant Coca-Cola bottles and big bags of sour cream and chive pretzel snacks.
In passing, I stopped the guy to briefly congratulate him on his wise choice of snack, when he immediately transfixed his eyes on mine and began telling me what seemed to be his life story. I wasn’t interested.
He told me how these pretzel snacks were a big favourite of his, (as they were mine), and how he would take a bag with him every time he went to the local cinema, thus saving him a load of money on movie snacks.
The guy told me about his favourite films of the year so far, and also about a cinema discount card that he’d purchased five years earlier. Since this purchase, he’d clocked up over 2000 cinema visits by using his card, for only £15 per month, he had unlimited access to as many films as he wanted to see.
I calculated that this roughly equated to 400 visits per year, and between 7-8 cinema visits per week – that’s (at least) one cinema visit each day. The guy seemed to be very proud of this.
He told me about a recent film he’d watched, and as he’d enjoyed it so much, he went back to see it a further four times that week. The guy explained to me how when ‘good films’ like were released; he’d make maximum use of his cinema card to boost his overall tally of cinema visits. This tally of 2000 visits, he informed me, made him the most regular visitor at his local cinema.
My mind wandered, I was already bored. The guy smelled of stale sweat, and I wasn’t interested in talking about movies with someone I didn’t know. So, rather than dismissing the poor guy (who was just trying to make conversation), I turned on my focus, to gauge whether I could establish what he genuinely wanted to tell me.
I considered the things that have motivated me in the past. I recalled the irrational drive I once had to ‘make a name for myself’ by being as direct, controversial and ‘in your face’ as I could be in my video production, YouTube channel and other online communications.
In the midst of the conversation I was now having with this cinema guy, I began to reflect about how I take all opportunity, to be as honest and controversial as possible. This is what I want to be known for.
In the past, I’ve stated to others how transparency is one of my ‘core defining’ attributes, cocktailed with my directness and sincerity. I began comparing myself (and my motives) to the motives of my new cinema-going friend, and wondered, for a moment, if we were that dissimilar.
The pride that the cinema guy took in his tally of cinema visits wasn’t unlike the pride that I once took in my need to be recognised and seen as significant in the eyes of others. The cinema guy wanted to have more cinema visits tallied up on his card that everyone else, and I wanted to be seen as more honest and controversial than everyone else.
The cinema guy needed to tell me about how significant he was, wasn’t any different from the need that I once had to be seen as direct and controversial in the personal development world. I wondered if both the cinema guy and myself were nothing more than pawns playing in the same competition in very different contexts but with different rules.
I questioned whether we were both attempting to be seen simply as unique by others within our fields of influence and peer groups, in our completely irrational efforts to find a sense of false, warped significance by simply being bigger and better than others.
Could this cinema guy possibly see himself as being significant by having visited the cinema more than anyone else during the period he’d been playing this game, while I see myself as being significant by being more direct and controversial than others?
I’m not saying there’s any truth in this epiphany. However, my mind did continue to wander as I was ‘talked at’ about movies for a further ten minutes.
I remembered a talk that I listened to years earlier, from a man called Tony Robbins. I recalled his discussing the 9/11 terrorist attacks throughout the USA. Osama Bin Laden had led those people following him to hijack some planes and fly them direct to America’s greatest financial institutions. The terror attacks that day killed many people and maimed much more.
On September the 11th 2001, men gave up their lives for the purpose of killing as many others as possible. On September the 11th 2001, other men and women, gave up their lives in the attempt of saving the lives of as many others as possible.
On the same day that some men took the lives of countless people, they had never met, heroic New York citizens and other public servants sacrificed their lives to save the lives of other people who they may also never have met.
Could horrific acts of terror, and heroic acts of selflessness both be motivated by the same basic human need? Could the pursuit of significance be the main driving force behind cowardly acts of terror and heroic acts of valour?
Osama Bin Laden wanted to put his nation on the global map as a ‘force to be reckoned’ with. He wanted to prove his significance.
New York citizens and other public servants done everything they could to save as many lives as possible – because saving a life, is a good and significant thing to do.
The cinema guy found his significance through having more cinema visits tallied up on his card than anyone else who frequented his cinema.
I wanted to be seen as the ‘guy without limits’ with a reputation for being more honest, more transparent and more direct than anyone else. I want to do something significant with my life.
Some people do good, and some people do great evil, but what I have recognised as true throughout my life to date is that people don’t always do the things they do for the reasons we think they do them.
We all have the capacity to do great good or great evil. We all have the ability to do something significant (whether good or bad) or be someone significant for others.
No-one’s ever going to know the reasons why you do the things that you do with your life – because no-one else is you. No-one will remember my ‘want’ to be seen as controversial, and no-one will the remember cinema guy for his 2000+ cinema visits. But for many years to come, two group of people who will never be forgotten, are those who done significant good, and those who done great evil – the heroes and the terrorists of 9/11.
I guess that we all have a different view about how to do something significant in our lifetime. As human beings, we all have the same core values – but the only thing that differentiates you from me is the path that you’ll take towards fulfilling them.
Every decision we make in life is a values-based decision.
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