Lessons Learned From Monsters

Monsters, Inc © Disney Pixar

One of my daughters’ favorite movies is the Pixar modern-day classic Monsters, Inc. Admittedly, it’s one of my favorites as well.

In the movie, a “Monster” society generates its power by scaring children and capturing their screams as a source of energy.  Our main characters-Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal)-make this notion of acquiring screams entertaining.  It certainly gives reason to laugh at our own childhood fears of the Boogeyman lurking in our closets. 

But as the story unfolds, we see the desperate measures taken by Monsters, Inc. CEO, Mr. Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) to acquire more energy (screams) which has become more difficult to obtain as children have been desensitized to the “scary things.”  It concludes when the jokester Mike Wazowski discovers that far more energy is generated by capturing the laughter of children-and there’s no limit to the amount that can be collected.

 So what is to be learned? 

Let me take a step back before answering that question and state the following:  We take ourselves, and our issues, far too seriously and far too often; we become so self-absorbed in our own opinions and agendas that we fail to see the larger issues that surround us.

This, of course, is only exacerbated by our sense of being on the “right side” of things.  Our language and behavior becomes less civil.  We resort to factionalism and fear.  We try to scare not just our opponents, but those either ambivalent or undecided. 

And, I have to ask myself, “Is this approach limiting our ability to capture energy and sustain our society?”  And since Sulley and Mike Wazowski are merely fictional characters, how do we harness positive energy today?

Over the last 15 years, America has been a particularly polarized nation.  We’ve seen it divided into Red and Blue states.  But, polarization and factionalism is not something exclusive to American politics.  It’s global.  It’s seen between East and West.  It’s among the “haves” and the “have-nots.”  It’s inter-religious….And, it’s intra-religious.

As Americans, we are in challenging times and it appears it will be that way for a bit longer. It has been said that as the size of the pie grows smaller, so do the table manners. With our economy lagging, it’s easy to be worried.  But, do we let our own fears and interests blind us or make us insensitive to others?  Or worse, do we turn that fear against each other?

The Congress has been grappling with a stimulus package and a federal budget that, as proposed, has a $3.5 trillion deficit.  Yes, that was trillion with a “T.”  Debate likely will be divided sharply among party lines.  Additionally, this summer President Obama will nominate a new member of the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice, David Souter.  My estimation is the polarizing forces will be out in full strength.

I pray that our processes are marked by reasoned dialogue and not divisiveness and fear.  It is far too idealistic to think that everybody will have a good Mike Wazowski-induced laugh about the many issues facing our nation at the present time.  After all, we ARE faced with a lot of serious issues.  But, that doesn’t mean we have to take our ball and go home if we don’t like it.

A debate about health care reform will take place.  There are some very strong sides on this subject and we’ve seen the language can be inflammatory.  Whether you believe in a Canadian-style Universal System or an unbridled free-market approach, it does not change the fact that at the end of the day 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all.

As it presently stands, 37 million Americans live in poverty — 9 million are children.  Estimates say that by the end of 2010, 50 million Americans will live at or below the poverty line.  How can the most prosperous nation in the world allow this to happen?  Are we too busy or do we just not care?

While proposed solutions to these problems will differ between the Left and the Right, there must be a common moral imperative to resolve these problems and address societal injustice. 

For that to happen….

We must ask ourselves, “Can I put aside my personal agenda for the common good?” 

We must ask ourselves, “Will I be an instrument of mercy, or an instrument of fear?”

We must ask ourselves, “Will I be life-giving, or life-taking.”

And when we go to bed at night, would we rather be laughing or screaming?

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