Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

Archive for March 2012

Mike Daisey is a monologist. He’ll stand before an audience for ninety minutes and tell stories. Upon leaving the theater, you’ll likely feel that you received the value of your ticket and then some. He engages you; speaks to issues you care about; informs you; motivates you. Many of his works can be seen on YouTube.

His most recent work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, tells of Daisey’s experiences in China as he collected anecdotes from factory workers who make Apple products. He paints pictures of Gestapo-like guards, slavish conditions, horrendous injuries, sardine can-like living quarters, suicides, underage labor…all in the name of the iPad, iPod and iPhone.

This stage presentation was so compelling that it attracted the attention of Public Radio International’s This American Life who asked Daisey for a 40-minute version of the story for presentation on that NPR show in January.

I heard it. And then I listened to the rebroadcast a day later. And then I listened to the podcast. This was activist storytelling at its very best.

When the show’s host and producer Ira Glass Tweeted last Friday about a problem with the Daisey show, I was curious, but thought initially that some journalistic technicality had been discovered and TAL needed to do a ‘mea culpa’ in order to maintain its integrity. TAL would never air such a thing without rigorous vetting: standard operating procedure (and an audience expectation) for the show.

The problem is that Daisey lied his way through the vetting process, and TAL did not fact-check his assertions adequately. It then aired a show on NPR that was packed with fabrications.

To its credit, This American Life devoted its entire hour, this weekend, to an illumination of the problem. The program included an extensive interview with Daisey, asking the tough questions in the way I would’ve asked them: ‘Did you lie about…?’  Most telling were the long periods of silence during which Daisey considered the way in which he’d spin his answer. Glass was an excellent surrogate in this situation: he confronted Daisey boldly; he told Daisey that he felt lied to.

It should never have come to this.

No NPR listener expects journalistic integrity when Garrison Keillor launches into his tales of Lake Wobegon. The place doesn’t exist in reality, and we understand that the characters so lovingly portrayed are composites of people we might very well know if they weren’t fictitious.

Such is not the case with This American Life. As Glass, himself, explains, listeners should expect his show to adhere to the same journalistic standards as any other NPR program: complete truth – verified.

I fault Mike Daisey for lying to TAL. I do not fault him for this debacle. He is an artist who pretended to be a journalist in order to gather material for his performances. He then stitched disparately-gathered information together to suit his purposes. 

The real fault belongs to This American Life. Ira Glass manned up and accepted responsibility for airing the program. You could hear him thinking that no one would ever believe him again. You could hear him feeling like he’d failed a sacred trust.

He did.

Now we listeners have to wrestle with forgiveness. Do we discard our relationship with a program we’ve loved for seventeen years, or do we figure that its producers have been sufficiently – and publicly – punished? I’m leaning toward the latter, though I will admit that it will likely be a while before my anger subsides.

Most of the back roads around here don’t have speed limit signs. This one did: 45mph. I had to laugh…it’d be pushing if I exceeded 15. Another thing the back roads don’t have is pavement. There’s dirt, gravel and potholes.

One thing we have in abundance here is back roads. And that’s where my current project finds me. I have an armload of contracts needing the signatures of certain landowners – most of whom live on homesteads and farms way off the beaten path.

I’ve found myself feeling sorry for a thing: my car. This is a new experience for me. And it.

I’ve treated my little car well since acquiring it over 75,000 miles ago. But as I rumble over the countryside in pursuit of my mission, I have living nightmares of nuts and bolts vibrating loose and parts falling off the frame. I have visions of vacuuming inches of accumulated dust from the choked-up air filter compartment. I wonder how soon it will be before the windshield will need replacement. I inspect the tires each time I approach the car and wonder how the donut will fare when it is inevitably deployed.

A quick check with the locals offers no reassurance: the worst-case scenario is the reality of life in the wild west. And in a world replete with things to fear, the single most-dreaded thing here is scoria.

A scoria roadbed

Imagine red bricks, partially crushed. It’s in chunks now with jagged, sharp and pointy edges. That’s scoria: a substance that has never met a tire it didn’t destroy. Scoria makes an excellent road bed; it compacts well and can handle heavy trucks. But it’s supposed to be covered by softer, rounder gravel. The fact that it isn’t is a product of our times — the oilfields have drawn away the workers and other resources needed to complete jobs like road building.

And so, the vehicular torture happens whether I minister it in fast- or slow-motion. The best I can hope for is that the doors don’t fall off.

There is an upside to all of this: the people I get to meet. I’ve been thinking for hours how I’d characterize them. All manner of tired cliché came to mind. Instead, I’ll describe them like this:

Image

I saw this picture in three kitchens just today. It describes – better than words – the reward I get at the end of every rough road.

Hollywood has given us thousands of memorable movie quotes. “There’s no crying in baseball!” “Houston, we have a problem.” “Life is like a box of chocolates.” And these are three of just one actor’s (Tom Hanks) famous lines.

Few lines rise to the level of meaningful: Jerry Maguire‘s “You had me at ‘Hello'” comes quickly to mind for its simplicity, memorability and impact. Last year’s The Help gave us a sleeper line: “Nobody ever asked me before what it’s like to be me.” In Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams delivers: “Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.”

Most of us plunk down our $9.50 to be entertained; to be taken away from ourselves for a couple of hours. So it comes as a surprise when something truly important is said; the more surprising when it comes out of the mouth of an innocent child.

Hugo is a movie about fixing things — a subject with which we can relate; who among us hasn’t experienced brokenness? Surely, twelve-year-old orphan ‘Hugo Cabret’ is one of us. He gives one of cinema’s most meaningful lines:

“If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.”

Perhaps moviegoers missed this. I did not. It stuck to me and almost made the remainder of the film a distraction as I considered the wisdom of these words.

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It is my belief that each human comes to this earth with a purpose. It’s planted in there somewhere; in our DNA, maybe. Each of us is wired in a special, specific way so as to enable us to accomplish our purpose. It could be the thing you do with the greatest of ease. It might be something you have to practice before being able to perform it. Years of education or apprenticeship may be necessary.

Most of us never realize our purpose. Family and societal influences often obscure it from us. There comes a sense that something’s missing; we are not satisfied. We are not reaching our true potential.

“If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.”

Understanding this may help to explain personal and societal dysfunction. The vast majority of us are missing the peace that comes from operating within our purpose. The world is missing out on the product that is uniquely yours to give.

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Get away from the noise. Go inside. Make the effort to touch the core. You can only realize the fulfillment of acting within your purpose if you know your purpose.


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