Jessica and Elizabeth came home for fall break, and Vicky and I invited them to see a movie with us – Captain Phillips. The film told a dramatized version of the story of a captain of a large cargo ship who was taken hostage in 2009, by Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa, and later rescued by Navy SEALs.
I like Tom Hanks, and the trailers of the movie that I saw led me to believe that there may be some insight and understanding of the context and motivation of the pirates. I also like Navy SEAL movies so…Captain Phillips made the cut.
The movie was filled with action, stress and intense emotion. The ending of the movie was particularly emotional. What really surprised me though, was the strong reaction that Jessica and Elizabeth had after the movie. As we were walking back to the car, and while we were driving home, they both started to share how hopeless it was to try to change anything. Maybe a big, wealthy government with a powerful Navy and special forces can make a difference in the world, but how could an average individual real have any effect on the enormous issues of our day?
The Somali pirates, as portrayed in the movie, were impoverished and hopeless waifs, that were more or less slaves of the powerful Somali warlords. The movie made it look like they were forced into the risky, dangerous “job” of pirating. Most of the time, the end up dead, wounded or in jail. Even when they were successful, the vast majority of any ransom or monies received went directly to the warlords; thereby holding the pirates in a life of indentured servitude. I am not sure of the degree of accuracy in the portrayal of the pirates; but the emotional tension between the harsh treatment of Captain Phillips and the desperate, hopelessness of the pirates inspired some pretty intense emotion in the movie-watchers.
I believe the girls were reacting to several feelings and emotions. First, the feeling of helplessness and fear experienced by Captain Phillips. It doesn’t take much to completely lose your security and safety; and being at the hands of desperate, violent criminals – unsure if you will live or die. This would be a terrifying experience. There was also a great deal of frustration as these huge Navy warships and powerful Navy SEAL commandos were held at bay by a few, skinny Somalis in lifeboat.
Second, the girls were reacting to the hopelessness and humanity of the pirates. The leader of the pirates, a man name “Muse” in the movie, was a strong character. You could tell in the movie that he was under the influence and forced control of the warlords. The irony was that he and his pirate cohorts were almost as much hostages of the warlords as the captain was a hostage of the pirates. Muse was skinny, malnourished and almost pitiful in stature, but at the same time he had a charismatic courage and determination about him. He wanted to stick up for himself, and, ironically, he wanted to do a “good job” and hoped to be successful in his task, not only for himself, but for his friends and fellow villagers.
Lastly I think the girls felt the depth of the emotional suffering that is likely going on at any given moment in time, in the world at-large. They have both been exposed to extreme poverty and despair, live and in person during several mission trips, and also second-hand through their involvement in many outreach organizations and their association with and knowledge of several different compassion and poverty initiatives. There is so much suffering in the world, and they feel such empathy and compassion, and so desperately want to do something about it. But here they are – college kids with limited self-sufficiency, and a seeming inability to avail themselves of the perceived amount of powerful resources that would be necessary to make even a small difference anywhere in the world.
They kept remarking on the uselessness and powerlessness of being one single individual in such a huge world of suffering; completely incapable of effecting any meaningful change in large or even small ways. What can one person do? One person is useless.
I reminded them that every single major world movement, good and bad, was the result of the determined resolve of one individual. Nations and kingdoms have risen and fallen, slaves have been freed, injustices overcome, etc., all because of the vision and tenacity of a single person. Often times, the individual is able to win additional people over to his cause, but typically, only after of months, years and sometimes decades of isolated fight and struggle.
Anti-apartheid in South Africa, anti-slavery in the US, civil liberties for African-americans, the right to vote for women in this country, and the list goes on. The truth is, one single person, is pretty powerful, perhaps the most powerful force on the planet. The level of power achieved, is directly proportional to the will, passion, and determination that the individual brings to the table.
Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church discusses the passion and determination needed to unleash the power of change channeled through an individual in his book, “Holy Discontent.” Bill describes the emotional state as being “wrecked.” Individuals whose actions result in world-changing events are fueled and motivated by an internal passion and desire to right a perceived wrong. Bill Hybels refers to the old Popeye cartoons. When popeye had enough of a particular situation where he was being defeated, he would yell, “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” He would then proceed to break out the can of spinach, and the rest would be history.
One person can make a difference. Single individuals have made enormous differences, and led powerful movements, for good and for evil. It’s is not the smallness of the single individual that matters. It is the strong, undying, passionate, discontent for enabling a preferred future. A desire that is so strong, so all-encompassing, that one would fight through any obstacle; and make any sacrifice necessary to achieve it.
When the world is not being changed, it is not for lack of human resources, it is for the lack of human passion and desire to do so. That perhaps, is the most disturbing, and convicting take-away from the movie.