Making Decisions, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, and Trembling Before God
Russell Crowe was nominated for an Academy Award for his sensitive and effective performance in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind. The beauty of the dialogue in that movie impressed me so much that I bought Sylvia Nasar's book. A particular Russell Crowe line in the movie struck me: "cognitive reverie." Everybody is familiar with "cognitive reverie." Cognitive reverie is when you are just sitting, thinking, and then typically you have a profound, inspirational, and pleasant insight. In fact, "cognitive" means thinking and "reverie" is a joyful daydream. So "cognitive reverie" would be a profound and delightful insight.
Actually, I had just seen 4 movies in Miami Beach with my 89-year-old mother when I began to "cognitive reverie" about how people make decisions and then how they act based on those decisions. The movies that we saw were A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park, Italian For Beginners, and Trembling Before God. Gosford Park was good; the others were remarkable. It was the combination of A Beautiful and Trembling Before God, however, that made me begin to think why people made the choices they did.
Trembling Before God is a documentary which focuses on a group of questioning conflicted Orthodox Jewish gay and lesbian men and women who despite, and in conflict with, their Orthodoxy choose a life of homosexuality and as a result brave the difficulties of living both the gay/lesbian and Orthodox Jewish experiences. This is so difficult because being gay or lesbian is in such conflict with/contradiction to their Orthodoxy, as well as much of society in general. The men and women in this documentary are fully aware, and in the movie even they so state, that according to their Bible, The Torah it is a sin to be a homosexual. The relevant statement concerning homosexuality in the Bible is Leviticus 18:22: "It is an abomination, also translated as "going astray", for a man to be with a man as with a woman."
Some may disagree with my interpretation of this movie, but I believe that the key question of this movie is whether or not there can be compatibility with being gay/lesbian and being an Orthodox Jew. As you might imagine, there is more to it than just this. My purpose is not to judge the rightness or wrongness of actively being homosexual. My purpose is to discuss the difficulties resulting from acting on this predisposition. I am only here to begin to discuss the meaning of that movie and the difficulty and implication of these people's choices as well as, and more relevantly, your and my decisions and choices.
Why does a person go from Point A to Point B? Did he/she being at Point A simply want to go to Point B? Did that person just want to leave Point A and simply ended up at Point B? Was there any decision at all - was it just chance? Or what else?
In the situation under discussion, if there is adequate restraint, as recommended by their religion, by these men and women from being actively homosexual, the personal price as stated in the movie seems to be unacceptably high. The decision to be homosexual and act on that while still being still being an Orthodox Jew is like "when an irresistible force - the drive to be homosexual, meets an immovable object - their religious upbringing..." is a question of impossibility without answer. Ultimately, I am saying that if one feels/is compelled to do something that may be contrary to one's own personal beliefs, health, society, or conscience then there may be a terrible personal/professional price. This, then, is one of the either heroic or impulsive decisions by people who make difficult decisions and who must suffer/may rejoice in the problems and/or benefits of their choices.
So I began to think ("cognitive reverie") about my own difficulties recently with regard to my being immoderate with my own diet and inadequate with my own exercise. I've been having some dietary/exercise discipline difficulties over the past 6 years since I moved from a small condo to a larger house. Things just got a little disorganized, I like sweets, and as a result my diet/exercise has not been as "brown rice-vegetables-beans-fruit with fish twice a week" as I recommend. As a result I put on some weight. That is not to say that I am living terribly far from the mark, I'd weigh 250 lbs. with my metabolism if I did that. My cholesterol had fallen from 280 to 130 but has risen as a result of my loss of discipline. My plan for the past 1½ years has been to get back on track - only recently being accomplished. Hence, this implies that I, too, am having difficulties in thinking/deciding and doing what I know I should - and I am the teacher!! This essay is not a "mea culpa" confession, it only brings home the idea of how difficult making the correct decision/action-plan can be even for the teacher, the willing, and the knowledgeable. Only when knowledge, faith, dedication, and determination are coupled with difficult work and unpleasant restraint does this translate as "a job well done."
Be that as it may, I was wondering not only how do I decide to do what may be right or knowingly wrong but also how do other people make most decisions and then act. I began to realize that people make decisions for many reasons, but importantly as in the case in the case of Trembling Before God, there is usually a call of emotions, biology, and the senses, etc. That is, in this case, and even commonly, one is motivated in significant part by some sensual drive, such as sweets, alcohol, ego/love/anger/hatred, tobacco, TV, etc.
Or maybe it is just our biochemistry, or maybe it is a hallucination, or maybe there is no thought process, or it is simply random chance, or maybe because we simply want to, or maybe because we are rebellious and we would say we don't want to - the actual decision-making process is not always simple and straight-forward. That is how the courts become involved: Because of various competing and opposing pleas of being innocent, or not involved at all, or falsely accused, or a moment of madness in isolation or all in combination, and once again, "etc."
Being a human being is not simple! Being a good/reasonable/ethical/honorable/natural or unnatural human being is downright difficult - which is not to imply that being homosexual is wrong but for these religious people it certainly appears to be a dramatic conflict of "right versus wrong" - even according to their own ambivalent account as recorded in this movie.
A percentage of people do "it" - whatever - right naturally. But for most of us normal, yes, me too, mortals there are incessant temptations that we allow to draw us away from what we know we should do. Quoting Spike Lee, "Doing the right thing." We need a "tomorrow plan" where we weigh the value and danger of what we do today against the actual development of problems/disease that can/will occur in the too near future and then choose that which preserves health and avoids disease and problems as best possible, usually with restraint.
These meanderings are simply to help anyone think how to begin to make changes. As always, a journey of a thousand miles begins, continues and ends with a single step. For most of us normal, average, sluggish mortals, it will be a difficult and up-hill task, the more difficult the older we get, unfortunately impossible in our rebellious youth. What are the inducements to do what is right?
The main inducement to any decision should be the preservation of your freedom. Ultimately doing healthy things is about preserving your freedom to be who you are and who you envision yourself to be. That is, do you enjoy family, sports, television, sex, shopping, traveling, dining, etc.? Whatever it is that "turns you on," doing the wrong thing e.g. smoking or drinking coffee/cola/alcohol, eating other than a brown rice/vegetables/beans/fruit and a little fish twice a week with anything once in a while "liv-it" (not a die-t"), not exercising like walking three miles a day 5 days a week plus doing some weight lifting, and/or having a bad or negative attitude is what can be expected to cause you to lose your freedom to be who you are and do what you enjoy. Curiously, I believe that being selfish or mean, for whatever reason, is associated with certain kinds of moderation that make people who are mean and nasty tend to live longer than others - although I don't think they enjoy it as much.
For most people, most of the time the rules work exactly as they should: If you do it right, most of the time it turns out right. But if you do it wrong, most of the time it turns out wrong, although occasionally it will turn out right. This is the "Law of Probability." Once again, be that as it may, we will do what we do and likely be rewarded accordingly. From the New Testament it is said, "Ask and it shall be given unto you." I have often felt this is misinterpreted by most people. I don't really believe, for all practical purposes, that most of the time you will receive what you ask for in a good sense, e.g. asking to win the lottery, having some nasty person get out of your life, stopping smoking, reducing weight, getting a better job, etc., etc. I believe that if you decide and do breathe/drink/exercise/eat and think wrong, you will be paid with disease and disability. Paraphrased, "Ask for disease and you will get it". But if you do things right, you will tend to be paid with your health and freedom.
Restraint is the key to health freedoms, and many other, and is the key question in this movie for these conflicted gay and lesbian men and women which decision for or against restraint I certainly cannot decide for them. It was their struggle and conflicts that made me begin to "cognitive reverie" about the areas where I am so personally and professionally involved and am discussing in this essay.
Returning to and regarding my areas of interest in biologic health, one must restrain oneself - not absolutely - but enough to protect our Natural Human Design. Our Natural Human Design calls upon us to do those things listed above such as clean air, clean water, low percent body fat, positive attitude, lots of exercise, high fiber/low fat diet, etc. good things. When we don't do enough of those, when we don't restrain ourselves from the wrong things, and we don't motivate/actuate ourselves into doing what we know we should, that is when we begin to develop more arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, overweight, bad self image, carelessness, disability, death, etc.
So then, ultimately, my "cognitive reverie" and these thoughts are about understanding why people make choices that they do. We may feel compelled, we may be compelled, we may hallucinate, we may be insightful, we may not care, we may care, we may have all the positives and negatives and end up with either the right or the wrong decision resulting appropriately in our health or our disease. But, in summary, ultimately it is "do it right or risk getting seriously hurt." The risk goes up the more things you do wrong and the fewer things you do right. So, consider the above as you review your own smoking, diet, weight, exercise, attitude/thinking, etc. behaviors. For in the end, you will tend to receive your just "desserts," which is why we have the rules of health and the epidemiology of disease combine together into common-sense reality.
There are so many choices, interests, emotions, distractions, competing and confusing rules/dogmas/insights/ motivations that it is difficult to recognize, let alone do/make the proper decision which hopefully is based on health and well-being for yourself and as many others as possible rather than selfishness and carelessness. This should result in your being able to remain as self-sufficient and free as possible, not a burden, and not a consumer of healthcare except for wellness documentation. The end result of this, when you do what you should, is you will likely rarely be sick until you are very old, and then there should be a reasonable and relatively painless/uncomplicated natural death without identifiable cause at age 90-110.
It is not about being successful at the expense of others, it is about being successful independent of others due to the combination of your proper behaviors in the controllable areas of your life, almost certainly correlated with more than a little bit of good luck and blessing whereby chance encounters of great danger/accidents/exposures are avoided. It is a principled behavior pattern based on individual right choices documented by good evidence as well as significant insight/best guess. It is about being healthy, happy, prosperous and together forever as long as possible. Obviously, certain words should be defined, and while this essay may fail for literary, psychological, and philosophical reasons/criticisms for using undefined words like "proper" or "moral" or "healthy," these are deemed by me to be comprehensible by the average normally intelligent person/"jury" of reasonable peers, or common everyday folk like you and me, and need not be further defined.
Submitted with support and respect.
H. Robert Silverstein, MD