What’s wrong with our world, and what we can do to make it better?
These two questions Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura, etc) asked luminaries including: David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Lynne McTaggart, Ray Anderson, John Francis, Coleman Barks, and Marc Ian Barasch in the new documentary I AM. I was fortunate to catch the show in Portland, Oregon, the first city on its tour around the U.S., and even to talk in person with Tom, following a standing ovation.
I AM is packed with fascinating interviews including one about Quantum Mechanics and an experiment measuring the electronic impulses of yogurt bacteria empathizing with Tom. I came away from this passion project feeling inspired by the main message of I AM — We Are One.
WE ARE ONE
We Are One. These three words take my thoughts down pathways of my own personal experience as an SGI Buddhist and of living in the Andes with Quechua and Aymara peoples.
Buddhism has been based for thousands of years on the concept of “Dependent Origination”. One Buddhist parable illustrating this point is “The Two Bundles of Reeds”. If the two bundles lean against each other, they both can stand. If one falls, so does the other.
In the Andes, for thousands of years, Quechua and Aymara peoples have lived the concepts “Ayni” and “Pachamama”; expressing aspects of our mystic interconnection with everything. Ayni can be translated as, “Reciprocity, cause and effect, dependent origination”. Pachamama has been translated as, “Mother Nature” and “space/time continuum”.
In Bolivia, Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in the Americas, is bringing indigenous wisdom into the global arena. For example, on December 7, 2010 Bolivia enacted a law acknowledging the Rights of Mother Earth as if she were a person, and declared her to be “sacred”.
WE WHITE FOLKS ARE MENTALLY ILL
As a descendant of European immigrants to the Americas, as well as of Native Americans, one scene in I AM especially resonated with me. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native populations had few incidences of profound mental illness or dysfunction. Native American Jack D. Forbes observed that the European conquerers appear to have been infected with the mental illness of cannibalism. “Cannibalism, as I define it, is the consuming of another’s life for one’s own private purpose or profit.”
Another part of I AM that I enjoyed was the rebuttal of Social Darwinism. The luminaries interviewed were in agreement with one of my favorite books, “Mutual Aid“. Instead of competition, it is mutual aid and cooperation which guarantee the survival of the species.
Quoting Darwin to cutting-edge neuro research, I AM reveals that Sympathy (not competition) is the strongest urge in human nature. In Descent of Man Darwin mentions “survival of the fittest” only 2 times. But he mentions “love” 95 times.
Neurologists discovered “mirror neurons” that fire up as we empathize with the emotions of another. We humans aren’t the only ones with “mirror neurons”. Our relatives have them, too: whales, dolphins and even elephants.
Speaking of elephants and empathy – if you want to read about beautiful loving relationships and peaceful societies, check out Katy Payne’s book Silent Thunder; In the Presence of Elephants. If we all followed the lead of female elephants, we would have world peace.
Opening night showings were sold out for I AM in Portland, Oregon. Standing ovations followed the Q&A sessions with director Tom Shadyac. At one session, a middle school student said she thought he was crazy to have given up his mansions, fancy cars and private jet and given a fortune away. Why did he do it? Tom sincerely answered that acquiring more than one needs does not bring happiness – that happiness comes from within, from the heart. The middle school student smiled and said that she understood. A feeling of caring and empathy warmed all of our hearts, who heard.
What will be the result of this documentary from the heart, I AM? Perhaps we will take action inspired by the group of deer in the documentary. They were trying to decide to which of several watering holes they would go. Some turned and faced towards one watering hole. Others turned and faced towards a different watering hole. Once 51% of the deer looked in the same direction, suddenly the entire herd moved together to that water hole, leaving behind bewildered aggressive alpha males who appeared to be wondering, “Hey! Where did everyone go?”
Will the new documentary I AM bring us to this critical mass where we suddenly all wake up and move towards a peaceful and happy future? Even if it is just a single step in the direction towards happiness, peace and love, it is a welcome step that I celebrate.
I AM is now on tour, showing in selected cities around the U.S. – Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Phoenix and Denver. New cities are constantly being added to the tour.