Wondering about Sharing after a Second Viewing of “Arrival”

02/15/2017 08:23 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017

There is much provocative and explanatory information about the film online, so this is not about that. I would just say I hope many people see it and wonder and wander about so many things, thoughts and feelings the movie has to offer.

In my own writing about emotions and politics, I often wonder on my own about what it would take to make people want to collaborate more with one another. What would it take, in other words for us to see that we all have something to gain. Right here in the movie there is the concept and reality of “non-zero-sum game” that comes to us in a powerful and unusual expression (no real spoilers here, don’t worry). The kind of win-win situation, where both parties or players can gain without losing something, is shown to us in plot and language that for me felt like an aha experience a propos of the notion of sharing.

Gobs of articles and blogs are being written, on and off Facebook about how to combat what many see as fascism, egomania, absolute narcissism and the danger to both people and democratic values, under the auspices of Donald Trump in particular. I find myself wondering, about how we let him in, and about what would happen if he went away. I come back over and over to the idea that one of the biggest divides we have, with or without Trump, has to do with whether we will risk looking at social and physical problems with facts and science and caring, or not—and how many people seem scared of doing so.

“Arrival” shows how one creature, being, set of beings, can give something valuable to another and ask for a favor in return. There is the inducing of cooperation through inspiring, and the request for a return gift at a future date. Nobody loses. For us, here in the movie theater and outside, this poses a question that I feel we don’t usually commit to considering. In a culture—ours—that has thought of itself as exceptional, there has been a taking for granted that life is about getting what one feels the need and desire for, just about at any cost. There is not the sense that we share the planet. We generally haven’t expected to need what people disadvantaged on the surface of things have to offer us; we don’t usually consider that we are bound to need the help of others different from us.

After the second time at “Arrival” (how many ways can I say please see it?) I imagined Americans looking to migrate to regions that are now overcome by violence that one-day, might not be. I thought about how much we have to give each other, the sick person to the healthy, the dying to the younger person and vice versa.

I still feel strongly that Jung’s idea about the need to own up to the presence of the shadow in us all (we are all potential murderers and potentially tender and vulnerable as well) as well as the need for us to embrace our imperfections, is crucial. I don’t see us getting better without it. And as such when I look on line and see so much certitude about what is needed and who is to be fought outright, it feels like dogma and it makes me worried.

How we speak—our language—affects how we see just about everything. One of the hardest and most joyful aspects of being a psychotherapist is the privilege of learning someone else’s language to find out where and how they live and feel. One of the greatest deprivations any of us have comes when we are not known, and not discovered.

The idea of understanding each other’s frames and use of language doesn’t seem a highly developed social interest. Right now there seems to be animosity where there is any disagreement at all on political levels, even among like minded people. There seems to be a pressure to agree to the point that I confess feeling discomfort revealing my own doubts about direction on political and social levels. I feel one aspect of doing better is being more interested in our own language and that of the people we have the chance to speak with and learn about.

Maybe we need to see learning about meanings and customs and fears and traditions and history of one another as exotic and interesting as we do when we travel to far off places. We know that learning a foreign language is good for the brain, so maybe we can start teaching and learning, Advanced Liberalism, and Beginning Conservatism.

I’m trying to look at the possibility of how it would look to have more of the possibility of a “non-zero-sum game”, where we could feel that we wouldn’t be losing our footing if we get to know other peoples, other sectors, from other races and tribes and orientations and made it more of an adventure than complete betrayal of our current side of the divide. That it wouldn’t be a serious loss if we question the history of our own views, our own passions and opinions. And if we could try to talk and listen, also to people who on the surface are like us but in reality have subtle but central differences in our own ways of perceiving.

It seems a bit corny, I realize that. We’ve been polarized for awhile and in ways it seems that is the only way it can be. I just can’t see our creating ways to resolve anything unless we try to interrupt this trend and remember that there are powers benefiting from this kind of hate and constant fighting.

I see it in the therapy office. People start by hating and fearing but come to see that authentic expression can be liberating. There can be joy in sharing, in knowing and being known.

Life is not a therapy office, I know. But maybe some of what we learn there might help. Why not?

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