Seven billion movies

We all spend a lot of time in our own heads. Inner dialogue, they call it. I know it gets pretty noisy for me in there at times.

Just as people used to believe other planets orbited around the Earth rather than the Earth orbiting the sun, it can sometimes be pretty easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything that happens in our world occurs because of ourselves, either because of us or to us. I don’t think this is necessarily evidence of narcissicism or selfishness, it’s simply a part of the human experience. We see life through our own eyes only. We experience life in the first person. We are all the star in the movie of our lives.

Life puts us right in the middle of the action. We’re in all the big scenes. But it’s all an illusion. In reality, there are seven billion ‘movies’ being shot right at this very moment. There’s the woman in the house next door, the guy stopped beside you at the traffic lights, a child starving in the third world and a citizen risking their life for political independence in a repressive dictatorship. Everyone has a back story that led them to that moment, experiences that changed the way they think or act. But very few things that happen to us in our lives are of any grand significance beyond ourselves and maybe those our family and friends. The fact is that most of us really aren’t that important.

The world, however you choose to look at it, is utterly neutral to our very existence. To point to something abstract as a reason that you aren’t where you want to be or as an excuse for an unfortunate outcome is misguided. It is also disempowering: to suggest that your actions can have no bearing on outcomes in your life robs you of the power of agency. This is not to say that people cannot be disadvantaged or face inordinate struggles, nor is it a rehash of the capitalist mantra that if you aren’t rich or ‘successful’ (in a world those two are somehow proxies for one another) it is because you aren’t working hard enough or that you are aren’t as good. What I’m saying is that it is unhealthy and counterproductive to blame things on some sort of abstract force. Our lives are not scripted. When something bad happens, it is simply something bad that happened and on this occasion, it just seemed have happened to you. Our lives aren’t (The Truman Show)[], however much it might feel that way some times.

Thinking about things like this, in a macro way, can help us gain a sense of perspective about the relative significance of different events in our lives and instruct us on exactly where we should spend our time and attention. Next time you are angry or frustrated, think about what that is helping you achieve. Feeling that way occasionally is normal; becoming consumed by it is not. What is most important is putting as much of your focus into doing positive things - for yourself and for those you care about. Next time you’re drifting into ‘my life as a movie’ territory, think about all the film crews out there shooting other people’s movies all around you. It’s liberating, if a little bit terrifying.