To the editor:
For many years my husband and I have hosted friends and strangers to watch and discuss movies at our home in Hancock. My husband’s taste runs to very slow, thoughtful movies, which can be a little hard to stick with sometimes.
We recently watched one called “The Orator,” which is a movie from the island of Samoa. True to form, it’s a slow film. There are lessons in both the film, and in the slowness of the film, that made me want to write today.
The film is very confusing. It does not draw on familiarity, and that’s a good thing since I don’t know anything about Samoa, a country in the South Pacific. Slowly, very slowly, we come to see that they run their political and justice system very differently than the American system with which I am familiar. Their system has pluses and minuses, as does ours, but people are people.
The time we take in watching the film, in accepting that people can be very different and yet the same, is a lesson for all of us in our divided times. It’s somewhat reasonable to give up on the film and to say “This is too unfamiliar, I don’t get it. I’m going to do something else.” But, there are tremendous benefits to sticking with the film. As there are tremendous benefits to sticking with people who are very different from us, whose politics are different from ours, who’s decisions, whose system on which they base their decisions, are different from ours.
I won’t belabor the point, but maybe you see what I’m trying to say. The film taught me that greeting lack of familiarity with impatience or frustration meant that I would never figure out what was going on. I would never figure out what these fellow people had tried and how it worked for them. It struck me that that’s something I wanted to share in this letter.
I wish to suggest that we are not really listening to one another but rather are impatiently deducing that the people we’re hearing about are wrong and should be dismissed out of hand. The film showed me how much I could learn from setting aside that reaction, letting people tell their story, and then learning from what I heard and saw. I really wanted to share that with you today.