The Movies

William Holden to a forgotten film star, “You used to be big.”  Her reply, “I am big … it’s the pictures that got small.” – Gloria Swanson, “Sunset Boulevard”  

I watched some of the Academy Awards for 2020. I have always loved movies. My first regular job with a paycheck was ushering. I was the Chief Usher at the Community Theater in Morristown New Jersey. It might have helped that my older brother, Mike, was the Theater Manager. The first movie I saw also stared William Holden. It was “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Holden plays the reluctant hero who returns to the prison camp he escaped from. And he winds up getting cut down in a hail of bullets trying to stop Alec Guinness from saving the bridge they were building as prisoners for the Japanese. How do I remember this stuff? As an usher I saw the movie 28 times!  

Out movies reflect our culture. They mirror the current zeitgeist. Two starkly different examples: “It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood”, and “The Joker.”

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers does a masterful job of portraying the compassionate and empathic Mr. Rogers who brings entertainment and support to children. He winds up helping an investigative journalist who was looking to “expose him as someone too good to be true” and ends up being transformed by Mr. Rogers’ genuine human caring and connection. Mr. Rogers loves people and they return the love.    

Joaquin Phoenix is The Joker. He seeks love and connection in a dystopian society, Gotham City. The Joker has a job as a clown working in a children’s hospital. Like Mr. Rogers, he also wants to bring these children joy and compassion. The similarities stop there. A gun slips out of the Joker’s costume in the children’s ward. The Joker is psychotic, and Joaquin Phoenix does a brilliant job of showing how thin the line is between ‘control’ and ‘chaos’. The Joker’s environment is impoverished and dangerous. No one cares for him.

Why is it important to go to the movies? We learn about who we are as a society. Movies do reflect our culture. They use art to tell us how to behave without lecturing to us. They make us laugh; they make us cry. They show us our heroes and they show us our villains. And hopefully, we chose to model the good guys.


On Tuesday February 4, 2020, I woke up and turned on the news, expecting to find the results of the Iowa caucuses. And, what do I get … nothing. The morning paper headline, “Iowa Caucus Chaos”. It’s a shock when our expectations are not met.

It’s an interesting thing to consider, expectations. We all have them. Some are high, some moderate, and some low.  Some may even have strong beliefs about expectations. “I work hard, and I expect you to do the same.” “I expect you to make me proud.” “I don’t have any expectations and I’m never disappointed.” One of my beliefs, “If you say you are going to do something, do it.”  

Expectations are often not stated explicitly. We ‘expect’ that the other person already knows our expectations. And we are shocked when our expectations are broken. The employee who steals from the company coffers. The spouse who criticizes you in public in front of friends and strangers. Your child who lies to you. Your friend who betrays you.  

At work we have performance appraisals. Expectations are the foundation for this process. That’s why the process is so challenging. Often, the expectations are not clear, not well defined. What is expected may not be spelled out. And, even if the goals are clear, how to do the job is often not clearly articulated. No one ever told the brash sales super star that being nice and courteous is important too.  

Meeting expectations is one definition of quality. I ordered French toast and bacon last week. I got the French toast, and the bacon came five minutes later. Did I need to tell the server that I wanted both at the same time? When expectations are not met, we have a problem.  
Why is it important to be aware of expectations? I have them. You have them. We all have them. The question is, are they the right expectations? Are they realistic? Half the marriages in America end in divorce. Expectations not met. Half the people at work are not engaged in their job, they are anxious or depressed, or a little of both. If you expect life to be easy, with no pain or sorrow, no difficulties or illness, a blissful existence until the day you die. LOL, and that’s not short for lots of love.

What Do You See?

When we look at a figure, we tend to make a pattern of it.” Gestalt principle  

Look at the figure below, what do you see?

This is an old trick of the eye I learned in my first year studying psychology, that the eye forms a gestalt, a pattern, and we see that first, automatically. There are really two objects displayed in the image above, a vase and the outline of a man’s head. Take another look, can you see the other image now?
Gestalt means organized whole. From Gestalt psychology we get the basic principle of closure. We tend to see patterns when we look at objects and want to finish or close the pattern if there are any holes or breaks in the picture. In the picture above, we want to see a whole, like a vase. Can you also see the two outlines of the faces? 
Now look at the image below. What do you see? 

Do you see an old lady or a young woman? Take a minute and play with what you see. Are you able to see both? 

Why is it important to know about gestalts? How we perceive things matters. Notice how the latest displays for flying a plane or driving a boat, like an aircraft carrier, are getting smaller and simpler, with fewer dials and gauges to read. Gestalt principles are used today in designing features to make products easier to use. An instant glance gives you closure, and you get the complete picture of what it is and how it works.  New cars are looking more like airplanes today. It started with Gestalt psychology. 


“The ability to bounce back, to recover from a stressful event”

Resilience is your ability to adapt well and recover quickly after stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy. If you have a resilient disposition, you are better able to maintain poise and a healthy level of physical and psychological wellness in the face of life’s challenges. If you’re less resilient, you’re more likely to dwell on problems, feel overwhelmed, use unhealthy coping tactics to handle stress, and develop anxiety and depression.

The skills of resilience. The positive psychology movement of the past 20 years has opened research on happiness, well-being, and resilience. You can develop resilience by mastering your stories. Become more open minded. Train your attention on the more-positive aspects of your life. You can use purposeful, trained attention to decrease negative thoughts in your mind and bring greater focus on the most meaningful aspect of an experience.

The US Army has adopted the core tenants of positive psychology to establish the Master Resilience Training Program. They have put some 55,000 soldiers through it. The Army Resilience training focuses on; emotional, cognitive, mental, physical, and spiritual resilience. Training in these areas can improve your resiliency, enhance your quality of life, and decrease your stress and anxiety by teaching you to view life’s inevitable challenges as opportunities. See the Army poster below: 

The good news is that these same resiliency skills apply to all of us.

Learning the ABCs of how we interpret experiences and how that shapes our thinking and feelings is a foundational resilience skill. 

Why is it important to build your resilience? Being in the arena, out there in the workforce, you need to be both ready and resilient.  Ready to step up and do your job, and resilient enough to bounce back from obstacles and challenges that you will inevitably face. Lost productivity from stress and absenteeism is in the billions of dollars each year. A healthy, productive workforce is one that is both ready and resilient. Think about a recent challenge your company faced. If you came through it, stronger than ever, chances are, the whole group is stronger and healthier. Resilience can be contagious; Army units win medals and whole companies win awards. Seeing others jump in and tackle tough challenges is inspiring. And resiliency is contagious.

Where Are You Smart?

“Some people can fix machines, some fix people, and some can play music.” 

Why are some people good at reading people, and other’s at reading the woods and terrain? According to a Howard Gardner, ‘intelligence’ or IQ, is not just one factor, a number that defines how smart you are. He has proposed a theory of multiple intelligences. Although it’s controversial, I like this approach. We all have different strengths and they are extremely important in how we learn and spend our life. Gardner claims there are eight distinct modalities or forms of intelligence*. The eight modalities are pictured below: 

Howard Gardner – He believes people have 8 different modalities of intelligence

So if you have long noticed that you live for your Friday night gig at the local bar playing the piano, or you long for your trips up North to the cabin and days out in the Boundary Waters, you may just have a Musical or Naturalistic form of intelligence. Consider the things you have done well in your life, the things that you were attracted to and enjoyed doing. These may well be your two or three ‘intelligences’. Consider how you can expand the use them in your life. 

Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences”, Howard Gardner, 1986. 
Why is it important to know where you are smart? How about great life satisfaction and purpose. Too many people slave away at a job they don’t like, never have liked, and don’t do a very good job at it to boot. Knowing your strengths, the modalities that you excel at, enables you to naturally seek out and find meaningful work that comes naturally to you. Not everyone can put together a bookcase, explain snow tracks to a granddaughter, and not everyone can write a sonnet. Celebrate what you can do and do it with joy.