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Arjuna Ardagh Headshot

Signs of Good Times Ahead

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Over the holidays, I saw two great movies and downloaded a new CD from iTunes, all of which were, to me, undeniable signs that things are getting way, way better for all of us.

As an awakening coach, the thing that I hear people complain about most often, is the outrageous and indescribable imbalance in our economy: both nationally and globally. I wrote a post about this a few months ago, which I'm going to recap here for you in a few sentences:

We feel powerless faced with our current economic system, because there appears to be almost nothing that can be done about it. Even the social media we might use to make a difference is owned by the same huge corporate interests that many people resent. In that other post I concluded that the only possible way we could restore a sane, fair, and balanced situation to our planet would be if greed, and using other people for selfish profit, simply became unfashionable. Just like selling black people as commodities, or seeing women as unfit to vote, there came a time when these things were just not cool anymore, for anyone, and they stopped.

These two movies and the CD are very good signs that the collective fever is breaking, and that we are on the mend.

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Like a lot of good films American Hustle appears to be a story about other people in other times, while subtly holding up a mirror to the one watching the screen. Set in the 1970′s, it loosely retells the ABSCAM scandal through the lives of a con man (Christian Bale), his wife (Jennifer Laurence), his accomplice (Amy Adams), and an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), who are all in various ways out to screw each other. The bell bottoms, '70′s music, and lack of computers or cell phones all reinforce the sense that we are watching a story about other people in another time. "Did you ever have to find a way to survive, you knew your choices were bad, but you still had to survive?" the main character asks his girlfriend. He is looking right into the camera, at her, but at you and me as well.

The movie is full of disarming moments like this. Amy Adams plays an American ex-stripper who has adopted a British persona, all in service to a better con. The FBI agent who sets out to bust her slowly falls in love with her. There come a great moment when she lets go of her adopted British persona, and show him her real, American stripper self. With an uncanny cocktail of vulnerability, accusation and self-exposure she looks right into his eyes (which means right into the camera, right into OUR eyes) and challenges him to tell the truth for just a split second. Don't we all lie? Don't we all make up the stories we need to, do what we gotta do to be loved, and approved of, and to feel safe? To get by? Don't we all hustle?

Not since American Beauty in 1999 have I seen a film that comes this close to a pure uncompromising message of real awakening. Its not for the faint of heart, any more than hanging out with George Gurdjeiff or Buddha would have been. You are confronted with uncomfortable truths.

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In the same vein is another new film which packs a similar punch: The Wolf of Wall Street, with stellar performances by Leonardo Di Capro and Jonah Hill. Once again, the film seems to be the more or less true story of Jordan Belfort, another conman, but this time in the '90s on Wall Street. It's another larger than life mirror: reflecting to us the parts of the human psyche that are willing to lie, to distort, to do what you gotta do to satisfy the craving for more, and more, and more and more.

I'd recommend that shortly before or after you watch The Wolf of Wall Street, you also watch the documentary Inside Job, narrated by Matt Damon. It is about the forces that led up to the banking collapse in 2008. You will quickly discover that the over-the-top antics of Jordan Belfort bear an uncanny resemblance to the real lives of the people running our global financial systems. Hustling is not just the subject of recent movies, it is at the very core of our world tottering on the brink of implosion.

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This Christmas I also downloaded a CD from iTunes, recorded by somebody who, just a few months ago, not one of us had heard of. Her names is Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, known to most to us now by her stage name Lorde. Her first CD Pure Heroine, was recorded last year, when she was just 16. It has eleven tracks, each one spellbinding. Not one of these powerful anthems to the reclaiming of power is the love song you might expect from a teenager. There is no "I want you baby", "I need you baby", none of that.

Each one is a bold, feisty, catchy song, gracefully giving the finger to the values we have all been trained to aspire to. Everything she belts out screams of finding deeper values than the usual addiction to money, and fame, and power, that the media has tried to sell us for long.

It's a brave album. It's a brilliant album. Lorde, now 17, seems to have swallowed massive doses of Walt Whitman, Leonard Cohen, and Sinnead O'Connor, in order to produce such a masterpiece.

Lorde's Pure Heroine is slated to win the Grammy this year, not for emerging new artist, but for best damn album of the year. "Royals" has 142 millions views on YouTube. Hustle and Wolf are both being spoken in the same sentence as Oscar.

Put all this together in a blender, add a little humor and optimism, and we have good reason to sit up in our seats and pay attention. As Malcolm Gladwell has taught us, we are seeing a Tipping Point in values. What if the generation now going to college, entering into the workplace, actually gets it that making loads of money is the booby price, that fame, and fast cars, and endless hustling are not all they were cracked up to be?

What if these movies, and this great new album, point to a collective shift towards valuing connection, giving your gift and making a real contribution to people, whether we get paid for it or not?

Maybe we can relax a little, and look forward to a braver new world in 2014.
 
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