The Gritty, Edgy Moodiness of Film Noir: 24 Classic Examples

nighthawks_by_edward_hopper_1942 Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

If she is rude to the waiter, she will be rude to you.

If your dog dislikes him, walk away.  Slowly.

There is always a price to be paid for crossing the line.

Listen to your intuition.

Navigating through life would be so much easier if one always followed simple rules.   Too frequently, emotion trumps the rational mind, but a diversion away from one’s true course can provide an opportunity to learn valuable lessons — if one should be fortunate enough to survive, that is.
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Cinematic exploration of the triumph of passion over common sense is the domain of Film Noir, an outgrowth of European Expressionism, which flourished in America from the early 1940s through the late 1950s.  The creators of Noir crafted their gripping stories by thrusting realistically flawed characters into morally challenging situations; then, rather than fashioning contrived outcomes, stood at a discreet distance and allowed human nature to take its course.
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Most Noir films are “B” movies, the shorter pictures produced as undercards to the marquee features.  Constrained by small budgets, Noir offers crisp and sharp dialogue and tight plotting.  Short running times permitted none of the directorial self-indulgence endemic in modern-day film.
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The genre’s archetypical black-and-white photography (budget-driven, once again) and the predominance of nighttime or half-lit daytime settings infuse atmospheric moodiness with menace.
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Invariably the setting of a Noir — whether an opulent, hilltop apartment building in San Francisco, an unlit New York warehouse, a lonely desert road, or a dingy block of flats in a bleak Los Angeles neighborhood — is as essential to the story as any character in the film.
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Because the contemporaneous Hays Code governed the messages and images films were permitted to convey, a fortuitous circumstance for lovers of the genre, in Noir films all crimes, all sins, and all errors of judgement are punished.
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Inasmuch as motion pictures were a 20th-century contribution to the age-old tradition of transmitting life lessons through storytelling, Noir offered mid-century movie audiences a chance to engage in thought experiments — What if I were to give in to temptation?  What if I succumbed to the lure of something for nothing?  What if I took the wrong path?  What might happen? — within the safe realm of fiction.
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There are hundreds of films in the Noir anthology.  Today I would like to recommend to you two dozen sparkling gems for your viewing enjoyment.  Accompanying each title you will find a list of stars, the name of the director, the setting, a brief description, and a theatrical trailer.
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Classics of the Genre

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The four films listed here number among not only the best Noir of all time but also the best films of all time.

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Director: John Huston
Setting: San Francisco
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For a newcomer to Film Noir, The Maltese Falcon is a must-see.  Boasting a tight, brilliant plot, impeccable dialogue, and several iconic and career-defining performances, gets better with each subsequent viewing.
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Director: Otto Preminger
Setting: New York City
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A stylish, taut, and riveting drama.  As police detective Mark MacPherson (Andrews) gradually falls in love with the brunette (Tierney) whose murder he is called to investigate, he finds he is not alone in his obsession with the stunning Laura.
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Director: Billy Wilder
Setting: Los Angeles
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In this simple and compelling cautionary tale about the perils of passion, insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray) finds the lure of illicit financial gain irresistible when his partner in crime is a knockout blonde (Stanwyck).
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Director: Tay Garnett
.Setting: the southern California coast
Drifter Frank Chambers (Garfield) succumbs to the charms of a blonde bombshell (Turner) after a chance stop at her husband’s gas station.  His motive for subsequent criminal acts — avarice, lust, or a desire to save a damsel in distress — becomes moot as a series of irreversible decisions dooms him and his paramour.
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The Element of Chance

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Some of Noir’s most compelling stories place characters in hazardous situations not entirely of their own making.  Three highly recommended masterpieces —

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Director: Rudolph Maté
Settings: San Francisco and Los Angeles
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To my mind, this film is a must-see.  It employs a brilliant and innovative premise: after discovering to his horror that he has been poisoned, a very ordinary accountant (O’Brien) devotes his few remaining hours on Earth to identifying his murderer.
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Director: Otto Preminger
Setting: the central California coast
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Having run out of money to pay his fare, drifter Eric Stanton (Andrews) stumbles off a bus at an unfamiliar hamlet on the central California coast, where he finds himself drawn into the inhabitants’ rivalries, hatreds, and crimes.  Preminger’s trademark mastery of atmosphere keeps viewers transfixed through the denouement.
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Setting: Los Angeles
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As amnesic U.S. Marine (Hodiak) returning home after World War II finds himself mistaken for a wanted murderer.
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Unwillingness to See or Reluctance to Act

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“If only he had seen her as she really was.”

“If only she had recognized the danger before it was too late.”

“If only he had had the strength of character to take the difficult stand.”

Human frailty provides a treasure trove of source material for Film Noir.  Three to watch —

Impact (1949)

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Stars: Brian Donlevy, Helen Walker, Ella Raines, Charles Coburn
Director:Arthur Lubin
Settings: San Francisco and Sausalito, California; Larkspur, Idaho

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Businessman Walter Williams (Donlevy) pays dearly for idolizing his glamorous and much younger wife (Walker) and refusing to see her as she is.
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Director: Robert Siodmak
Setting: urban eastern U.S.
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Washed-up boxer Ole Andreson (Lancaster, in his film debut) rejects the offer of a police job and opts instead for a criminal path that ultimately costs him his life.
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Settings: Multiple, including Lake Tahoe, California; Acapulco, Mexico; and New York City
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When an unexpected visitor turns up at the gas station he owns, retired private investigator Jeff Markham (Mitchum) finds to his chagrin that he cannot escape the errors of his past.
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Consequences of a Single Decision

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The knife-edge, yes/no decisions made in a fog of emotion and without sufficient input from the cerebral cortex produce fascinating storylines for Film Noir.  At times a viewer wants to reach through the screen to shake sense into a self-destructive character.  Five of the best —

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Director: Andre De Toth
Setting: Los Angeles
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A classic Film Noir set-up: insurance investigator John Forbes (Powell) is bored with his job and suffocated by the financial responsibility of supporting his loving wife (Wyatt) and exemplary young son in post-War Los Angeles.  When in the course of his work Forbes meets a beautiful gangster’s moll (Scott), he sets his feet on a path sure to destroy his life.
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Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Settings: Reno, Nevada; rural Arizona; Los Angeles
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Embittered jazz pianist Al Roberts (Neal) makes a split-second decision to hide the body of a man he did not kill and thereby seals his own fate.
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Director: Ida Lupino
Settings: Rural southern California; Baja California, Mexico.
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Two southern California pals (O’Brien and Lovejoy) tell their wives they are on a fishing trip when in fact they are bound for Mexico in search of extramarital excitement.  A stop to pick up a hitch-hiker upends their plans.
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Director: Ida Lupino
Settings: San Francisco and Los Angeles
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Lonely San Francisco businessman Harry Graham (O’Brien) pursues a friendship with the attractive and intelligent Phyllis (Lupino) during his frequent work-related trips to Los Angeles.  A one-night tryst puts Phyllis and Harry into a bind that Harry resolves by breaking the law.
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Settings: Rural Wyoming; Los Angeles
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Two friends on a hunting trip (Ray and Albertson) stop to help two stranded motorists who turn out to be bank robbers on the lam.
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Capers and Action Films

Seabiscuit and John "Red" Pollard finally won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940, defeating stablemate Kayak II. It was Seabiscuit's third attempt to win racing's biggest prize at the time. They had been beaten a nose by Rosemont in 1937 and a nose by Stagehand in 1938. Keeneland Library/Morgan Collection

Keeneland Library/Morgan Collection

By virtue of its taut plotting and crisp dialogue, Noir produced numerous riveting and satisfying films centered upon action and well developed set-piece capers.  Six not to miss —
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Director: Stanley Kubrick
Setting: Los Angeles
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Career criminal Johnny Clay (Hayden) decides to undertake one last heist, a burglary of Santa Anita racetrack, before settling down to marry his girl (Coleen Gray).
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Director: Raoul Walsh
Setting: California, especially Los Angeles
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Brothers Joe and Paul Fabrini (Raft and Bogart) struggle with loan sharks, hitch-hikers, rough terrain, sleepless nights, and conniving women as they endeavor to scratch out a living in the trucking business.
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Director: Jules Dassin
Setting: California, especially San Francisco
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With the help of other drivers and a local prostitute, wildcat trucker Nick Garcos (Conte) wages war on an unscrupulous produce supplier (Cobb) in order to save his family’s business and preserve his father’s honor.
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Setting: Aboard a train from Chicago to Los Angeles
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A police seargent (McGraw) charged with escorting a gangster’s wife from Chicago to a Los Angeles courtroom, where she will testify against her husband, finds he is sharing the train with the hitmen she is trying to elude.
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Director: Don Siegel
Setting: San Francisco
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A San Francisco dope-smuggling ring that slips packets of drugs into tourists’ luggage is stymied when a drug shipment disappears from the custody of an innocent mother and her little girl.
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Director: Edward Dmytryk
Setting: San Francisco
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A mentally ill man terrorizes San Franciso by killing women with a sniper’s rifle, all the while penning desperate letters to the police in hopes that they will catch him.
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Relationships on the Edge

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The gritty realism of Film Noir produced some fascinating character studies focused on male/female relationships.  Three of the most engaging (and most chilling) —
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Director: Nicholas Ray
Setting: Los Angeles
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A budding romance between tempestuous screenwriter Dixon Steele (Bogart) and his new lady neighbor (Grahame) is badly strained when the police suspect Steele of murder.
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Director: Fritz Lang
Setting: Monterey, California
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Restless “black sheep” Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) returns to her family home after an ill-fated love affair.  She finds herself torn, with nearly disastrous consequences, between a level-headed man (Douglas) whom she finds boring and a difficult hothead (Ryan) whom she cannot resist.
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Director: David Miller
Settings: A cross-country train; San Francisco
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Successful playwright Myra Hudson (Crawford) falls deeply in love with and marries dashing actor Lester Blaine (Palance).  Her discovery that he plans to betray her transforms her passionate love into murderous hatred.
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On Children

familly

The recent welcome news that I am to become an aunt for the seventh time has brought these poignant verses to my mind…

On Children

 
 

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Ten Social Media Tips for the New Year

Quill_Pen

I hope 2016 has debuted on a positive note for you!

Over the holidays, I found the relatively quiescent social media world so restful and refreshing that I decided to seek continued peace by changing my online habits.

How best to optimize one’s social media time?  This is necessarily a personal calculation, but I would like to offer ten guidelines that I plan to follow in the New Year.

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Posting or tweeting in haste can land one in a quagmire of vitriol, escape from which can cost both time and emotional energy.

  • Do not tweet or post while angry.  If you feel compelled to respond to a provocative missive, jot your thoughts down in a text file and save them (or write them in an email to yourself only).  Wait an hour, and then reread your words before posting anything.

Exception: if a journalist gets his or her facts wrong, send a correction, but keep the message clear of emotion.

 

  • If you feel compelled to argue with someone, pause and ask yourself what in your own life you need or want to work on.  Redirect your energy toward improving yourself instead of firing off a response.

 

  • Similarly, before you criticize a public figure who has no power over your life (such as an athlete or an actor), redirect your energy toward your own goals.

Note that this reasoning applies to misdemeanor irritating habits and other small offenses.  An athlete who violates the rules of his or her sport, breaks the law, or grossly misbehaves merits reasonable public criticism.

 

  • If you disagree with a political post written by an “ordinary citizen” who is neither a journalist nor a member of the political class, keep in mind:(a) the author of the post with which you disagree has only one vote;(b) the author probably wants what’s best for his or her nation and the world but operates with a set of premises different from your own; and(c) the author is not your enemy.

It does no good to send an incendiary message to a relatively powerless citizen who happens to disagree with you about politics.

Exception: journalists and politicians have vast reach and influence.  Go ahead and correct them if they get their facts wrong.

 

  • If you find yourself in an online conversation that turns negative — for example, a cycle of “it’s so terrible that…” — either exit the conversation, or change its tone by saying something positive.

Life is too precious to spend time wallowing in the negative.

 

Input

While it is always tempting and natural online to add new connections, network growth can trigger an explosion of one’s news feed.  Not every post is a good use of time, and what is useful on one day might be a thief of time on a busier day.

Although for reasons of delicacy you may not want to Unfollow an online acquaintance, it is your right — and indeed your responsibility — to manage the volume and content of your news feed or timeline.

  • Don’t be afraid to use the Mute feature on Facebook or Twitter.  You are not obliged to read everything posted by your connections.  If one of your Friends generates an overwhelming volume of posts, or if a Friend posts messages whose tone or content is offensive to you, use Mute either for just a few days or for the indefinite future.

 

  • Similarly, “Turn off Retweets” on Twitter can reduce clutter from acquaintances who might forward too freely for your tastes.

 

  • For the occasional hothead, uninvited guest, or unpleasant personality whose posts or other activity you don’t wish to see, the Block feature is a blessing.

 

  • To quickly check highlights of your Twitter timeline when you are pressed for time (e.g., on a holiday, a travel day, or a busy workday), create a private List that includes only your “must see” feeds.

 

  • Sometimes the best way to cut down on social media time is to shut it off completely.

 

Very best wishes for health, happiness, and success in 2016!

More soon.

 

Quotes for Today

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of. — Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1746

Lost time is never found again. — Benjamin Franklin

 

Reflections on Apology, Forgiveness, and Clarity of Thought

TROTPS The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

Raise your hand if you will join with family to celebrate a holiday sometime this month.

If only all such gatherings could be harmonious!

In consideration of the fact that even in this season of hope and light old and new grievances are likely to touch the lives of many of us, I would like to say a few words about two phenomena whose manifestations in popular culture have become unmoored in recent decades from their classical meanings: apology and forgiveness.

 

Apology

Since I cannot claim to be an expert in either etymology or semantics, I would like to base my definition of “apology” upon common sense.

I think an apology ought to be a genuine and heartfelt statement of remorse for a specific action expressed directly by the individual offending party to the injured party.

The following are not apologies.

“I’m sorry if you were offended.”

This is not a statement of remorse for one’s behavior.  It is at best a statement of regret about the injured party’s sensitivity.

“I’m sorry if you were hurt by anything I did.” 

This is too general to be an expression of genuine remorse for a specific bad act.

Also, an apology ought to begin with “I’m sorry that…” – which is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing – rather than, “I’m sorry if…” – which is a dodge.

“I’m sorry that you see things that way.”

This is at best a backhanded swipe at the injured party’s point of view.

“I’m sorry for that bad thing that somebody else did.”

Person A cannot apologize for the actions of Person B, because Person A is not responsible for Person B’s decisions.

Such a perversion of apology, the likes of which politicians are known to indulge in from time to time, is a meretricious act of self-aggrandizement and hubris.

Person A can express regret – along the lines of, “It’s too bad that Person B did that bad thing.”  One can legitimately apologize, though, for only those acts for which one is personally responsible.

“We’re sorry for this bad stuff that the group of us did.”

I do not believe in collective responsibility or collective guilt.  Each individual – even each individual in a large body of wrongdoers such as Nazi Germany – bears responsibility for only his or her own acts (or failures to act).

 

Ideally, an apology is conducted person to person – face to face, by phone, or via written word – in a form such as this.

“I am sorry that I did X.  It was wrong, and I regret having done it.”

An expression of contrition cannot undo the wrong, but it is a necessary step toward remediation.

 

Forgiveness

What is forgiveness?  I see it as the clearing of a debt.

To me, “I forgive you,” means, “I release you from any obligation to make further restitution to me for your wrongdoing, and I commit the memory of that wrongdoing to the archives of history, where after sufficient time has passed it will probably be forgotten.”

Note my use of the phrase, “further restitution.”  It makes no sense to me to forgive someone who has never expressed remorse for wrongdoing and never attempted to make amends.

As I see it, forgiveness requires that the offender acknowledge wrongdoing, express contrition, and make restitution.  Only after completion of these three steps is forgiveness healthy, or even practically possible.

“Wait!” you might say, “What if an apology isn’t forthcoming?  What if apology and restitution are impossible?  Do you contend that in such a case the injured party should nurture his or her grievances in perpetuity, effectively prolonging and exacerbating the injury, rather than issuing forgiveness unbidden?”

Definitely not.

I would never suggest that an injured party do anything to compound his or her injury.

I am very much in favor of letting go of grievances – i.e., refusing to allocate to grievances space in one’s psyche.

But one cannot forgive someone who has not acknowledged wrongdoing or asked to be forgiven.  To do so would indeed compound one’s suffering, because of the implicit lie.

Contemporary Western culture tends to pervert the concept of apology and to pressure the aggrieved individual to “forgive” in the absence of legitimate apology and restitution.  It seems to me that recent semantic changes serve to deprive individuals of personal responsibility and autonomy.

Life is so much easier – and much more fun – when things make sense.

 

Quote for Today

A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life. – Winston Churchill

 

This is the third in a series of posts on seasonal philosophical themes.  My first post in the series was ‘Giving “Giving Back” Back to the Propagandists of Newspeak.’  The second was, ‘“Paying it Forward” is a Logical Impossibility.

 

 

“Paying it Forward” is a Logical Impossibility

see_saw

My favorite aspect of the Thanksgiving holiday is its celebration of gratitude.  In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Gratitude is a natural and positive human emotion.  Expression of gratitude promotes health, happiness, and social harmony.

Of late, and especially since the release of the 2000 film Pay it Forward, the idea of “paying it forward” – repayment of a debt to a third party rather than to one’s true creditor – has taken hold in popular culture.

I would like to argue that “paying it forward” is an illogical and immoral misdirection of gratitude that shortchanges both creditor and debtor.  Here is a story to illustrate that point.

 

Jane and Stephanie are longtime friends.  They have stood up in each other’s weddings.  They share confidences.  They socialize frequently, and over the past several years they and their families have enjoyed celebrating holidays together.

Jane’s father’s health suddenly fails.  His illness requires Jane to fly on short notice across the country and to be away from home for three weeks.  During Jane’s absence, Stephanie hosts Jane’s two children for four overnights and ferries them to and from two midday dental appointments.  Stephanie and her husband drive first Jane and later Jane’s husband and children to the airport for transcontinental flights.  Throughout the ordeal, Stephanie makes herself available to speak to her friend by phone at any time day or night.  Jane calls Stephanie for support at least once a day during her absence.

After three weeks, Jane and her family return home and resume a normal routine.  Because of the support from Stephanie, Jane has navigated her family’s crisis smoothly.

A week passes.  Stephanie sees Jane from a distance on occasion – at the grocery store, at the bank – but Jane does not call.  Stephanie attributes Jane’s silence to grief.

A second week passes.  Jane calls to invite Stephanie out for lunch.  Stephanie accepts.

As they linger over coffee, Stephanie finally speaks her mind. “I’m puzzled, Jane, and frankly a little hurt.  You haven’t said a word to me about all I did for you and your children when you were with your dad.”

Jane stares back in surprise. “I paid it forward, Steph.  I’ve been running errands for my friend Amber, who’s recovering from surgery.  I figured that would balance the books.”

 

Why did Jane not express gratitude to Stephanie for her friendship and support at a difficult time?

(One might similarly ask why Stephanie was surprised.  How could Stephanie have been Jane’s close friend for years without having recognized Jane’s ingratitude?  By way of answer, I will observe that the human capacity for self-delusion is considerable.)

The social compact under whose terms all of us operate, consciously or otherwise, is based upon enlightened self-interest and an implicit expectation of reasonable recompense for our efforts.  Stephanie’s shock and disappointment at Jane’s failure to acknowledge her kindness and at Jane’s having resorted instead to “paying it forward” is completely understandable.

“Paying it forward” has been hailed as a virtue by some arbiters of popular culture, as though charity to strangers lies on a higher moral plane than the proper treatment of friends and family.  In effect, the “pay it forward” movement is a cynical attempt on the part of contemporary social engineers to circumvent the natural and appropriate expression of gratitude.

One might ask why.

The only way to truly balance the books between a debtor and a creditor is for the debtor to acknowledge the debt and repay it.  For a debt of gratitude, the appropriate response – and indeed the only response that feels right to both debtor and creditor – is a direct expression of thanks.

“Paying it forward” by doing good deeds for others is no repayment at all.

 

Quote for Today

There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed.  If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.  – Robert Brault

 

This is the second in a series of posts on seasonal philosophical themes.  My first post in the series was ‘Giving “Giving Back” Back to the Propagandists of Newspeak.’

How to Break the Ice? Make a Game of It.

OnTheKennebecIII (Ice Jam by gothictile.com)

Family relationships can be minefields whose navigation requires courage and careful thought.

What does one say to a sibling, or a parent, or a child, whom one has not seen for many months, or even years – especially if the relationship’s history reads like a battle diary?

SalmonriveverDotCom (Photo from salmonriver.com.)

Several years ago my family of origin was in crisis.  Misperceptions and deeply-rooted resentments, reflexive to some of the principals while opaque to others, had nearly destroyed the family unit.  Trust, honest communication, and good will were in short supply.

To address the situation, the five of us – who at that time were spread over seven thousand miles – agreed to convene at my mother’s house for a long weekend in February.

Realistically apprehensive about what might transpire at the meeting, I mulled over how to approach the weekend and how to ensure that we said what we needed to say while maximizing the chances of constructive solutions.  The meeting needed an organizing instrument that would accomplish three goals: (1) to help each participant to organize his or her thoughts about our family system in advance; (2) to break the ice, i.e., lay the groundwork for honest and straightforward communication; and (3) to apply a congenial structure to a discussion which otherwise would surely be fraught with difficulty and might result in even further estrangement.

I remembered that some of us had had great fun with the game of Balderdash, a riotously funny romp whose goal is to guess which players have authored humorous movie plots, word definitions, book titles, etc.

For our family meeting, I was inspired to create a game that blended Balderdash, the board game Therapy, and The Book of Questions.  The new game would center upon guessing the authorship of answers to questions – some light-hearted and meant to teach us about each other, and others, more serious, designed to stimulate thought and conversation about what was really going on in our family.

I created a list of 36 questions, formatted them in Excel with space for answers and authors’ initials, converted the document to a PDF (linked here), and emailed the package to my relatives a few weeks in advance.

Template

Each participant filled out his or her answers on paper, initialed each, used scissors to separate the answers one from another, and brought the answers to our reunion.

The first hours of our meeting, before we played the game, were stiff but well-mannered.  I think it helped ease tension that we all knew that our first group project would center on the 36 questions.  When the five of us sat down to play after a sumptuous, home-cooked brunch, we were all pleased to find the experience to be enlightening, memorable, and genuinely fun.

Here are some examples of the lighter questions.

  • What is one thing that almost no one knows about you?
  • What three adjectives do you hope will accurately describe you in five years?
  • What three adjectives describe you not at all?
  • Write the first draft of your epitaph.
  • What is your favorite topographical feature?
  • Who in this group would be most likely to enter a monastery or convent?
  • Who in this group would look worst with flaming red hair, and who would look best?
  • Name something you have always wanted to do but haven’t done yet.
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change careers, what would you most like to do?
  • Write the first line of the following song: “If Only You Knew.”

Here are the serious questions I wrote for the game.

  • In abstract terms, what do you want from the family members who will gather this weekend?
  • What three concrete goals would you most like to achieve through the this meeting?
  • If you could communicate only one message to the family in February, what would you like that message to be?
  • What are your three greatest concerns about the weekend’s meeting?
  • What role would you like to have in the family one year from now?
  • What personal changes do you think you might need to make in order to improve our family dynamics?
  • In general, what behavior(s) would you like to see more of in members of this family group?
  • What do you think are the two most formidable obstacles to healthy family relationships in the future?

To begin play, one person (the Reader) collected all five answers to Question 1, stated the question, and then read all of the answers aloud in random order.  Each of the other players, armed with a notepad, guessed the author of each of the five answers and wrote those guesses down.  The Reader then announced the answers’ authors.  Players received one point for each correct guess, with a maximum of five points per turn.  The Reader recorded the scores on a scorepad.  The job of Reader/scorekeeper progressed around the group clockwise.

The game served as a valuable tool, helping us to organize our thoughts and identify our feelings, offering a forum in which each of us might raise concerns safely, and providing a metric whereby each of us could see how well he or she did – or did not – really know each of the others.

The game was so engrossing, eye-opening, and downright fun the first time through that we decided we’d play it again when next we met four months later.  For the second round, each of us contributed questions.  It happened that none of the questions was serious.

With family holidays looming over the horizon, I wanted to offer this ice breaker to others who might be anticipating difficult reunions.  The game provided my family a safe, structured, and straightforward forum for sharing thoughts, feelings, and concerns, becoming better acquainted, and having fun together.

(The game works best if every family member participates with enthusiasm and honesty and, to the greatest extent possible, as an equal member of the group.)

Quote for Today

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) in Anna Karenina

ENFJ? ISTP? – I C U R YY 4 Me!

Interpersonal compatibility is such a mystery.

I have no simple answers on the subject, but today I would like to recommend an approach I find to be both useful and entertaining.

“Why can’t we just get along?”

Anyone who found a definitive answer to that question could retire tomorrow.  No such Rosetta stone is forthcoming, though.  Vast literary and therapeutic industries have sprung up to address the need for partial solutions.

For me, the most helpful – and the most enlightening – compatibility tool in the marketplace of ideas is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

I’m sure many of you have heard of Myers-Briggs Types before and/or measured your own.  I took my first test some years ago and have found MBTI categories to be extremely valuable for understanding family and work relationships.

The MBTI measures character and temperament in four areas:

  • Introversion/Extroversion – Do crowds exhaust you, or do they feed you? How much do you rely upon the opinions of your peer group? etc.
  • iNtuiting/Sensing – How do you take in information?  Are you focused item by item and point by point, or do you have a more diffuse awareness of a “big picture”?
  • Thinking/Feeling – How do you make decisions: based upon your thoughts, or based upon your feelings?
  • Judging/Perceiving – Do you prefer to make a definite decision, or do you prefer to leave your options open?  Do others criticize you for being too rigid or for being impossible to pin down?  If you make an appointment for 6 p.m., are you there at 6, or are you unaware of the passage of time?  Do you fill out your datebook in ink or in pencil?

The MBTI assigns one of two letters to each personality category. The options are highlighted in blue above: I or E, N or S, T or F, and J or P, yielding a total of sixteen possible Types such as “ESFP.”

It is fairly easy and quick to take a Myers-Briggs test.  A sample (Jungian/Myers-Briggs) test is available here, and a clearinghouse of tests appears here.

Once you know your Type and the Types of your loved ones, your relatives, or your colleagues, you might shake your head and say, “So THAT’S why…”

…why she is never willing to make travel plans until the last minute.

…why it seems that we are arguing at cross purposes whenever we discuss politics.

…why our tastes in evening entertainment are diametrically opposed.

…why we don’t seem to understand each other when working together on a home improvement project.

Compatibility can be a painfully serious subject, but I find that working with Myers-Briggs Types often leads to laughs, especially if families or other groups take the tests together.

Much has been written about which Types are most and least compatible in personal and professional settings.  This site offers extensive discussion, as do several books.  I can recommend Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen.

Most resources agree that the P/J incompatibility is most destructive and most frustrating in relationships, perhaps because issues of day-to-day and long-term commitment are so thorny.

If you have not taken a Myers-Briggs test, I recommend doing so.  It is easy, enlightening, and fun.

(As an aside, it is important to note that the Myers-Briggs approach is limited and does not address, for example, the matter of good and evil.)

You might also enjoy trying to guess the Types of your relatives, your boss, politicians, athletes, or other famous figures, dead or alive.

For the record, I am an ISTJ.

More soon (and not in an open-ended way 🙂  ).

 

Quote for Today

“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” – Mark Twain