Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An Unlived Potential

I've been reflecting on yesterday's post about the film Avatar and others like it, where the lead character encounters a way of life with which they have little in common and yet, it is in this context they are enabled to grow to mature personhood. One thing that occurs to me is, often as not, these characters also appear out of step with their own world. They try to fit in but something inhibits their doing so fully. Maybe it's physical, maybe it's psychological, but one way or another they've arrived at a point where they're ready for something new.

Not new in the sense one is bored with the same old dull routine -- it's not like that. It's a qualitative newness that alters perceptions and challenges preconceptions. Change is in the air and they're ready to inhale it deeply. You can't think your way into a place like this; it's instinctive and either you're there or you're not. It comes about less by expectancy than by happenstance, and then reveals itself in a manner that suggests it's just been standing in the wings, waiting for us to make room for it onstage.

Another thing I've noticed is, there is always a community involved that views the lead character differently from the way they've viewed themselves. For instance, in Avatar, Sulley identifies himself as having been a "warrior" among the sky-people, and the Na'vi inform him this does not automatically qualify him to be one in their society. It's kind of like coming to medical school with a clinical background and discovering you need to start over at the beginning like everyone else. There are no special cases.

As the process of "becoming" proceeds, I think the community is the key player; it creates an atmosphere of support and appreciation in which lead characters become open and honest. The self-doubt and worry that plagued them in "our world" is worked out like a garment stain scrubbed vigorously on a wash board, and they begin looking peaceful and secure in their unfolding identity.

I realize one could say such communities as the Na'vi are idealized and sure, that's true. But they don't have to be, nor should one necessarily need to go to another planet to find them. Whenever we're around persons who value an indescribable something within us, and that experience makes us want to live up to their vision of us, then we've found a nurturing community. And what they see, we've felt was always there and because no one called or beckoned for it to come out of the shadows, it remained an unlived potential. But in the light shed by the community, it thrives, contributes, and makes us feel we're where we were always meant to be. And we probably are.

(Creative Commons image "Community Balloon" by sebastien b via Flickr)
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