Some people look to religion or well-thought-out systems of ethics when choosing the rules to live their life by — and some people are more comfortable relating to pop culture. Science fiction and fantasy movies provide plenty of wise mentors, who tell the heroes exactly what they needed to know.
So if you're looking for some insights into how to live your life, you could do way worse than sayings from scifi and fantasy movies. Here are 10 pieces of science fiction wisdom that have guided me through the years.
10. "Fear is the mind killer."
Ah, Dune — the interminable and near-impenetrable series that took a look at religious and political struggle across planets and generations. It includes many philosophical screeds, the most famous of which goes like this: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Paul Atreides recited this when a robotic blade was hunting him through his bedroom. I generally do it under deadline. Sometimes you just need to feel badass instead of neurotic. Of course, when I keep feeling freaked out, fear goes and self-loathing remains.
9. "Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something."
This is a nice blast of cynicism from the otherwise sweetly romantic Princess Bride movie. (This is funny because the book version is absolutely stuffed with cynical lines and pessimistic points of view.) It's also a good quote to force your way through a nasty work-out. What does it matter if your lungs burn and your calves are knotting up? Life is pain! Push through it! Anyone who told you it should be easy is a fool! Listen to the Dread Pirate Westley!
8. "Never give up and good luck will find you."
Well, we can't dive down a hole of cynicism all the time — especially when we've watched The NeverEnding Story at an early age. When a big hairy dragon says good luck will find you, and then helps a skinny little fantasy-reader-nerd terrify his bullies, and then flies him off to a magical kingdom, sometimes even the stoniest heart has to melt. And "Face your pain and fear," isn't the kind of advice you want to hear all the time. Sometimes you just need something positive to get through the day. This blend of admiration for perseverance and the promise of better fortune is an excellent combination.
7. "If someone asks if you are a god, you say, 'yes!'"
Winston knows best in Ghostbusters. Yes, you don't always know what you're getting into. Yes, sometimes there are consequences for that. But sometimes it's best just to bluster your way through things. Can you ride a horse in summer camp if someone asks you to take a private trip? Yes! Can you get into a quaint Italian town at dusk and find a rented room, possibly from a guy who breathes like Don Corleone at the end of The Godfather? Yes! Are you sure you can make a living as a writer? Yes! Might as well sound confident.
6. "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends."
Sometimes movies hit on actual pieces of wisdom, and Dumbledore, in the first Harry Potter movie, has his moment here. People are supposed to be comfortable around their friends, and it's meant to be easier to talk to them, which is why when there's a disagreement with a friend or family member, some maddening acquaintance or advice columnist will always say, "Well you should just talk to them," like it never occurred to anyone to talk about the things that bothered them. Actually, it's a lot harder to go up against your friends, who are part of your life, know your flaws as well, and whose opinion you value, than it is to cuss out some person on the street that you neither know nor care about. Sometimes the first step to working something out is realizing that you're not being stupid for thinking it's tough to do. This helps.
5. "A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."
Roger Rabbit says this, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the half-animated masterpiece that looks more realistic than any CGI to date, even if Jessica Rabbit still looks, to me, like a mutated strawberry popsicle. (I know. She ushered many a reader here into manhood. I don't judge.) I don't know how often this is true, but I know it's true. Hell, look at this article. I'm not getting through it with great with wisdom, encyclopedic knowledge, and a keen self-examination. I'm getting through it because I can laugh my ass off about how the various things spouted by movie characters reverberate with me and with the people around me.
4. "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
And this is why I have never attempted to throw a pie at David Blaine! Even when he did that 'trick' that was just him hanging upside down for a stupid amount of time. Thanks, Gandalf. You've never steered me wrong. Except that time you recommended Moria as a vacation spot.
3. "The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it."
This is from Melancholia, and before anyone says anything — I don't particularly think it's true. It could just be the most monumental case of sour grapes in film history, said by a depressed character facing the end of the world. But on days when life sucks, it really takes the pressure off. Sometimes, when you can't make the best of things, and don't feel like things are going to improve, and it seems like everywhere around you is misery and horror, it can help to just look out and say, "This all sucks to the point where nothing has any value whatsoever, so it doesn't matter much if bad things happen to me in particular, or everyone in general." And on days when you're feeling bad, just admitting that and feeling it can help a great deal. You're not missing out on anything. Just be sad and feel fine about being sad, until one day you don't feel sad anymore. And when you don't feel sad anymore, and things seem to have inherent value again, then Melancholia can just go jump in a lake.
2. "To crush your enemies . . . "
Conan the Barbarian - the original film version - gets asked what was best in life, he answers, "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women." I can give or take the "women" part. For me, it can be the lamentations of anyone connected to my enemy. And I don't crush people. I don't even really have enemies. But, and this is important, sometimes its good to be clear about things in your mind. The best revenge isn't 'living well.' The best attitude isn't 'turning the other cheek.' The best thing is to see the people who annoyed you crushed into abject misery. Most of the time, you can't have that. But always remember that that would be the ideal situation — so you have something to work toward.
1. "Adventure. . . excitement . . . A Jedi craves not these things."
Oh, like Yoda wasn't getting on this list. In The Empire Strikes Back he gives a piece of advice that's perfect because I can use it in any situation. If my life is exciting, I can say, "Nuts to the stupid Force, I need to have an adventure." And when absolutely nothing is going on except a bag of potato chips and a bunch of Firefly clips on youtube, I can say, "I'm not boring. I'm just in Jedi training." Is there a better piece of advice than one that allows universal retroactive self-justification? I don't think so.
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