Lessons from Hollywood

I was out for lunch with some of my workmates the other day, talking as we did of the things that were bothering us, airing out all our dirty laundry around what we were currently working on, as we waited for our takeaway meals to become ready. As due dates are now looming, we always wonder what sacrifices we can make along the way so that we can reach our deadlines, and it's a choice that we're making far more often the longer we go on. You could probably draw some sort of line graph showing that correlation: quality of code over time as deadlines approach.

(Actually, another programmer must have done that already. Let me Google for one... Aha! http://gdfm.me/2011/02/19/code-quality-vs-time-left-to-deadline/)

Anyway, these discussions can get heated, philosphical even, and at one point in our tirade on the choices we make, Ivan tried to sum up our situation in a quote:

"We have to choose between what is easy, and what is hard."
- J (something something, I misheard who he was quoting)

We all looked pensive for a while, and it got me talking about all the other quotes that I remember from movies; the lessons of morality that came to me not from my parents or any other role models in my life, but from a large screen and uttered to me through the mouths of actors being paid to say these words that I absorbed like a sponge.

With great power, comes great responsibility

This one I feel like everyone has heard at some point. We may not all have super-hero abilities, but power can come in many forms: things that you can do that others can't, or maybe things you know that others don't. We each have something about us that can set us apart, and if you can use it to hurt, to coerce, to exercise your own will or way upon others, then you have power.

Power gained through knowledge gained through gossip is one such form that I encounter a lot. Spreading lies or even truths backed by ill-will to make someone else feel bad can be a pretty potent weapon, and one that I see wielded far too freely and far too often. I feel most of us don't really know what power you have until it hurts someone or until you're called out on it, and then what you choose to do with it after that moment will guide that path of the kind of person you can become.

This particular Hollywood life lesson has a lot more going for it than just 'holding back when you have the ability to hurt', and so makes it one of my favourites, and the favourite of so many others.

It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you

Another line from a comic-book superhero movie adaptation, this line probably isn't mentioned as much as the other, but one that I hold quite dear. Too often I see people try to explain that they're something else, that they're a "good person" soon after telling everyone about something they did or said that a good person obviously wouldn't say or do, which in turn makes the "good person" sentence fall flat (sort of a reverse of the, "I'm not racist, but [insert something racist here]").

You can try describe yourself as any kind of positive adjective that you want, but if you then go and do something contrary to that, not only does it make you not what you just said, it also makes you an asshole and a liar. Congratulations: now you're 3 things you don't want to be.

This lesson I like because it's a lot harder to actually put into practice. Whereas the one above could be achieved using deep thought and inaction, this line inspires action. There was a time when I would self-describe myself in a myriad of ways, but when I found that nothing I said could be backed up by what I had done, I stopped trying to make excuses for myself and started doing the things I wanted to be. Now I don't need to lie to myself to tell me what kind of person I am: I just listen to what people think I am because their impressions are based on what I have done - that's the only feedback loop I ever need.

We're not the sum of our own wishful thinking, but the sum of the parts that make up our deeds and actions.

You have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy

Back at lunch, I finally remembered how the quote that I was thinking of went.

"Ivan, didn't you mean, 'You have to make a choice between what is right, and what is easy.'?"

"No, I don't think so." Ivan replied.

"Hmm, who were you quoting?"

"JFK."

"Oh..." (JFKs line is: "We choose to go to the moon [...], not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard.")

"Wait," Ivan paused, realizing we were talking about different things, "who were you quoting?"

"Umm, JK Rowling."

*cue laughter from colleagues here*