I want to tell you about an amazing documentary that I saw recently, called “This Way of Life“.
I had a most interesting reaction to this documentary. Firstly, I was cynical and thought the family somewhat lazy, unrealistic, pathetic even. My next reaction was to get angry. I got up, walked out and carried on for a bit before going to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned till 3am and then got up and meditated and reflected and tried to understand why it tapped into something, well, not really nice in me. Later that day, I watched it again, determined to sit through the whole thing and see if I could better understand myself and maybe even learn something from it. From my limited life experience, I know that when I react really strongly like that, it’s usually because there’s something that is confronting me that I need to deal with, even if I can’t put my finger on it.
I heard recently that truth often follows this path:
- Firstly, it’s met with mocking and cynicism
- Followed on by violent opposition
- And finally, acceptance
And thinking about it, that’s exactly what happened to me when I watched this. So why did I react this way?
Firstly, I think I both admired and resented the main character in the documentary, the young dad to the five (by the end 6) kids, the husband that did most of the talking. And to be honest, I think I felt quite insecure. You see, I’ve always, always struggled to feel good about myself, to feel accepted, to believe that I am even vaguely likeable let alone loveable. Often I don’t even feel good enough to hold my head high and call myself an even half decent man. I’ve battled with depression and anxiety and terrible insecurities and I’ve allowed those things to shape me into a pretty horrible person in the past.
I looked at this man and wished I could be more like him, that I’d been more like him during the formative years of my marriage and of my kids growing up, particularly my two teenage boys. I’ve often been driven by anxiety and insecurity and made so many poor decisions because of those and I know that I’ve damaged my kids as a result. I think I just resented him for his love and patience and reflectiveness around parenting because he epitomized what I wished I’d been.
I also felt a great sense of sadness looking at his kids and the beautiful, free life that they are living. You see, my years as a kid were not so great. They are dotted with sexual abuse, horrific bullying, terrible insecurity and fear and feeling incredibly inferior as a son. I don’t need to give you the gory details, but I will say that I have reconciled with my dad and he’s very forthcoming in saying that he is proud of me and I should add that the sexual abuse did not involve my immediate family. I know you can’t live life regretting the past and ruminating, but I do feel extremely sad sometimes when I think of a childhood lost in many ways.
I also felt resentful of the freedom that he (the bloke in the doco) seems to have. I feel quite trapped to be honest with you. I mentioned already that I’ve made a lot of bad decisions over the years, and many of those were financial. That meant that basically one day we woke up in so much debt that we almost went bankrupt (I feel very ashamed admitting that). I have spent the better part of the last 4 years working 6 or 7 days a week, sometimes 15 even 20 days straight, trying to get out of debt. I’ve often felt angry and trapped. But I’m pleased to say that in less than 18 months we’ll be debt free and able to start all over again. Watching the documentary made me really angry at myself for allowing us to get in to this situation.
I really admired their simple life. Now I know that most of us wouldn’t choose to live like they are, but I really want more of that in my own life. I feel like we are so driven as a society to consume and be stimulated and I just don’t think that is good for us. I know I’ve been sucked in to this horrible way of living myself (hence the debt) and I know it doesn’t bring any happiness.
I was with some mates at the pub recently and we were talking about mobile phone apps (we have this idea that we’re going to invent an amazing app and make squillions of dollars) and we noticed that each of our phones had pages of apps. And I’ve noticed that most computer desktop screens are covered in all these icons. And I think that’s a little representative of our lives; they’re cluttered. Each little app in and of itself is not bad, but put them all together and we have these cluttered, over-stimulated lives. I don’t want that anymore, I really don’t.
Another thing I realized is that I know that I’ve been sucked in to this idea of achievement and success and education, all to prove really that I am a valuable person. Now there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but my motives have been all wrong. Education, job promotions, “success” don’t count for much if I’m a useless dad and a pathetic husband. I was more impressed with the caliber and integrity of the bloke in the documentary than most academics I’ve ever known in my life. And when I think of the men that I look up to and learn from, I don’t look to any of them because of their education or job success, it’s because of their integrity and transparency, and humility.
Now, I don’t think I’ve done a good job at articulating why this impacted me so much but I hope you get the drift. It reads a little like a big, fat, naval gazing whine, but I’ll tell you that I feel like a new man after having spent the time to really think this through. I think, at 41, I’m finally discovering who I am and what I really want out of life. In a nut shell, I want to stop living to work, I want to work to live and only do as much as I have to. I want to connect, meaningfully connect with my wife, my kids, my extended family, my mates, their wives and kids (if they have them). I want to connect with nature more (we have chooks and vege gardens and fruit trees already) by bush walking, wandering along the beach, building trust and faithfulness in my dog, watch the sunrise, and appreciate beauty.
And I want a simple life, free of the trappings of modern Western life. I only want around me what I need and a few things that I want. I want to stop being a part of this society that is driven by consumerism and greed.
And I feel like it’s happening, even in the last 48 hours. I went to the Farmers Markets today with my wife and daughter. We just enjoyed pottering around, and meeting interesting people and having meaningful conversations. I felt like I was looking at the world with a fresh vision, like I’d just put on my first pair of glasses and for the first time I can really see what’s going on around me, and it’s bloody refreshing.
I hope you have the courage to watch this doco. You can buy it here. Go on, take a risk, I dare you.