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A Takeaway from “The Butler”

September 1st, 2013 by Alison · 17 Comments · climate change (global warming), nature, spirituality

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a master of human interconnectedness. He also lived out the ideal of sacrificial love — easy to admire, hard to do.

I came home from the movie theater last night with a wet handkerchief (yes, I still use these) and wet eyes. We’d seen “The Butler”, a tour of civil rights history through the intense experiences of a black family that lived at the epicenter of it. It was released in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the great civil rights march in Washington D.C.

I think the lesson of our civil rights struggle was that we are actually connected to other people. As in, all colors of people. As in, even if they’re living far away, nowhere near us, and we’ll never meet them.

The pre-civil rights paradigm was one of separateness. When you’re separate from others, you are free to oppress them.

But if you’re connected to other people, their oppression and pain is awfully similar to your own. You have to acknowledge their equality. Understanding our connectedness leads to compassion, and embracing equality.

“The Butler” reminds us that it cost a lot of hard work, suffering and sacrificial love to replace the old paradigm of separateness (inequality) with a new paradigm of connectedness (equality).

Climate change forces us to grasp that we are woven into our environment, not separate from it.

I see a parallel between civil rights and climate change. It has to do with our spiritual path from separateness to connectedness.

I think the lesson of our climate change problem is that we are actually connected to our environment. As in, our very lives depend on healthy soil, water and air. We see them as extrinsic to our lives, but they’re actually intrinsic, not  separate from us at all.

Just as importantly, our consuming lots of fossil fuels warms the climate. And, civilization as we know it depends on a stable climate. Extreme weather events, droughts and wildfires, and rising sea levels will all keep escalating with climate change.

As hard as the civil rights struggle was, dealing with climate change is harder. It forces us to think more abstractly, across longer time-frames and in larger cause-effect relationships, than people ever have before. It challenges us into more compassionate, disciplined use of resources than we are currently practicing.“The Butler”, as with any good movie, has life-lessons that are bigger than its specific subject-matter. Separateness. Connectedness. What it takes for a nation to shift from a flawed paradigm to a better paradigm.  It makes me wonder how much suffering and sacrificial love it will eventually cost us, across generations and centuries, to understand that we and the way that we live are deeply connected to our environment, in no way separate from it.

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17 Comments so far ↓

  • Mick Wiley

    I heard writers had a hard time getting this movie made. Hollywood felt there just wasn”t enough action for the typical movie viewer.. It is based on a true story- of an actual man who served under at least 4 us presidents. I”m glad someone was intelligent enough to realize it was a worthwhile
    story that needed to be told.

    • Alison

      I’m glad too, Mick. I thought there was a great deal of action — for example, the butler Cecil’s son was a civil rights activist. Lots of tension-filled moments, and suspense as to what would happen next. I wish that Hollywood would make more movies like this one, and less movies with exploding helicopters.

  • Debra Yearwood

    Alison, I don’t know if you are familiar with the more formal aspects of “systems thinking” (Google Peter Senge), but you are a natural systems thinker. Although the theory has it’s roots in engineering and has had it’s widest application in business, it holds true for environmental thinking. In fact, I would say the environment is THE place where we need to apply the thinking most.

    It’s about looking at how the individual interacts with the system and the impacts that interaction has. We are all part of the same system on this planet, every action we take as individuals has a consequence on people around the world. If we don’t learn to appreciate and understand the influence each of us wields, that we will eventually destroy ourselves. The fossil fuels I burn here in Ottawa create extreme weather around the world…and vice versa. Great post.

    • Alison

      Debra, I’m familiar with systems thinking in a general way. I’m not surprised — I’m pleased — to hear you say that I’m a natural systems thinker. For many of us women, this way of thinking is no stretch at all, seems to me. And some good men :) /
      I agree with everything you wrote. My body of thought at Diamond-Cut Life is about how we can live interdependently and joyfully, with best possible impacts on this lovely, fragile planet we all share. I really appreciate your body of thought at Comm Before The Storm. So glad that we are cross-fertilizing each others’ thoughts and writing.

  • Patricia Weber

    Thanks for posting about this movie. My husband has been wanting to see it and I have not been sure. I’ll be prepared with tissues if I decide to go.

    We are all connected. After all we are nothing but energy. Everything. Everyone of us. I like what you said here, to move from the old paradigm of separateness (inequality) to a new paradigm of connectedness (equality), is going to take time and work.

    Valuable insights.

    Over from LinkedIn group BHB

    • Alison

      Thanks, Patricia. I have a deep belief that all of this energy that we’re a part of will keep evolving into more compassion, wisdom and discipline.

  • Chris Anderson

    “Climate Change…. forces us to think more abstractly…” I think, unfortunately, you are exactly right. It hasn’t gotten viceral enough yet. We’re going to have to lose a lot more of New Orleans and some Micronesian nations and more polar bears before it starts not mattering to people whether or not humans are the proximate cause, so long as we can contribute to an improvement in the situation…

    • Alison

      Well said, Chris. The civil rights movement was very visceral, and in retrospect, that was a great advantage in rectifying the wrongs. Climate change is much more dire, yet also much harder to apprehend. Yet here we are, a nation/world of people more educated than ever before in the planet’s history. Yet we’re so lacking in wisdom. We have yet to grasp the lesson of interconnectedness. If we grasped it, we would behave (and consume) very differently than we’re doing.

      • Chris Anderson

        Caveat: many humans across the millennia have understood interconnectedness, and lived their lives accordingly, taking only according to need and returning whenever possible to the natural system that made their existence possible. I think this has occurred at various levels, from individual to tribal to whole cultures, both now and in the past. It’s just that so many of us have now moved so far away from the natural system, either deliberately or by sociocultural inertia, that we (think we) don’t need it anymore. In the name of “progress,” “development,” “control,” “convenience,” “modernization,” etc., we’ve isolated ourselves from some of the most connecting activities humans have always had to engage in to survive: providing our own food, creating our own wares, protecting ourselves, educating ourselves, cultivating faith and spirituality, etc.. We’ve specialized: developed farm(er)s, craftspeople and manufacturers, police and armies, schools and universities, and priests and religions to play all those roles and make all the applicable rules, and we’ve largely subjugated ourselves to their prerogatives and strictures. But the wisdom you mention isn’t lost~ it’s just submerged in all this inertia and clutter and “advancement” we’re so busy with, as the supreme manipulator and inventors on our planet. Keep faith and keep up the good work… It’s nice when the trappings are stripped away and that wisdom peeks out every now and then, naked and humble, from behind Oz’s curtain. It did in your “Butler” post…

  • Stephanie

    I understand the view that Climate change is a hard thing for people to wrap their minds around and agree that we tend to disconnect it from the greater impact that it has which is why so many people are able to deny and disregard it. I connect on so many levels and am impressed with where you took the movie to addressing it to life in general but perhaps I’m in the minority when I struggle with the sentence, “As hard as the civil rights struggle was, dealing with climate change is harder.”

    • Alison

      Stephanie, I say that because our nation and our world are completely failing at dealing with climate change. Dealing with it successfully would mean radical changes in our fossil fuel use, which would mean radical changes in our lifestyles and the structure of our economy. It’s not any fun for me to write that. Maybe that’s why so few people are writing about this.

      Thanks for telling me where my post stopped making sense to you. I need more comments like yours.

  • Arleen

    The Wealth Channel had a great story on what is going to happen with climate change if we globally do not wake up and see what is going on. The need for oil is the focal point of the problems. If we just set outside we can see the difference in the weather. Ice is melting worldwide, especially at the Earth’s poles. This includes mountain glaciers, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland, and Arctic sea ice. It is sad the decline of the Adélie penguins on Antarctica, where their numbers have fallen from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years.
    Floods and droughts will become more common. It was such a wake up call watching this program.

    As far as the movie The Butler goes, I really want to see it. I can’t make any analogies between climate control and the movie as I haven’t seen it yet.

  • Krystyna Lagowski

    Until you mentioned it, I’ve never made a connection between climate change and civil rights. But you make a lot of excellent points. They’re both society-wide movements that needed leaders and believers to make badly needed changes that weren’t obvious - until after they were made. I wonder, though, are we too late with climate change? So much damage has already been done. And while I have not yet seen The Butler, I do want to. It obviously touched you on a very spiritual level …

    • Alison

      Krystyna, it’s true that we’re already guaranteed to be stuck with climate change for many generations to come. Much of what the world will be doing is adapting to it — yet that, of itself, is huge and important work. And it makes a great deal of difference whether or not we burn the fossil fuels that are still in the ground, like the tar sands of Canada. Hence the great resistance to Keystone XL. Did you know that 75,000 people have pledged to do civil disobedience if President Obama approves Keystone XL?

      True that “The Butler” touched me on a spiritual level. Thanks for a good comment.

  • Elizabeth Scott

    This is one movie that I want to make sure I see. Also I want my children to see it so they know that society isn’t always like it has been for them. I encourage friendship and acceptance based on the person not the color. We are all connected and must work together to make society a better place. One step at a time.

    • Alison

      Elizabeth, I see we have shared values! About your children seeing “The Butler” — I’m feeling concerned, not knowing how old they are. An opening scene has the protagonist as a young boy witnessing his mother being raped, and his father being shot point-blank by the rapist a moment later when he objects. I found this very difficult to watch, even at age 52. I’m sure you’re used to making a lot of decisions about what your children should see and not see. I just wanted to give you a heads-up. I’m going over to visit your blog now. Thanks for coming by, Elizabeth.

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