“I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters: not the mortgage, not the store, not my team and all their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.”
— Dominic Toretto
“If one day the speed kills me, don’t cry because I was smiling”
— Paul Walker
In homage to the idea that all entrepreneurs need perspective and nothing gives perspective like an occasional break, this week I’m taking a break to talk movies. Specifically, the Tao of Pretty Woman. Consider it a little light beach reading gift.
Tao is a funny thing, of course. Why else would it be in the Rumination Paradox? The original Tao-te-Ching is a millennia old short Chinese text on virtue organized into 81 chapters. One translation begins the concluding chapter with, “True words are not beautiful / Beautiful words are not true” How apropos.
Great liberties have been taken with Tao. We have the Tao of Pooh, a 49 week NY Times best seller, which uses characters from Winnie-the-Pooh as a vehicle for understanding Taoism.
Unfortunate liberties have also been taken with Tao. The Tao of Dating, a 157 week Amazon “#1-Rated Dating Book” written by a self-identified “Happiness Engineer”, promises to tell smart women how they can be absolutely irresistible. Because no ying self-help book for females can go without a yang self-help work for men, we also have The Tao of Badass, a 152 page pdf written by a self-identified “world famous dating coach”, which promises
… actually, yeah, um, let’s just move on. Hopefully, if you are in the Rumination Paradox, you are discerning enough to want to move on.
Moving on, movies are a funny thing too.
We’ve all got that friend who can pull a movie quote faster than a Jimmy Ringo draw. We’ve all got that other friend we’d like to go Rhett Butler on who insists Pretty in Pink is second only to The Breakfast Club, but then of course there is Sixteen Candles and Dirty Dancing. Hopefully, her name isn’t Heather.
I remember my first R movie – DC Cab. I was 13; my sister was 12. My parents had recently split and my father exercised his new found prerogative to corrupt us. Riding home in the pickup truck, giddy from our candy and soda buzz, we all laughed about how cool Mr. T was. Of course my mother was outraged, so she retaliated by taking us to our second R movie – Moscow on the Hudson. Hours later at home, once we had had sufficient time to reflect on the movie, we sat around a healthy snack and discussed the contrast between Vladimir’s seemingly shameful and illicit sex scene in Russia and his sincere, honest sex scene in America. I think my insightful contribution was, “Yes, mom, Ms. Alonso’s breasts were very tastefully filmed, though I’m not sure why they felt compelled to cast her as an Italian against her native Latin heritage.”
Which gets us back to the Tao of Pretty Woman. I’m an unabashed fan of Pretty Woman. Not simply because I like Julia Roberts (although how can you not love a seemingly down-to-earth star whose middle name is Fiona, mother’s name was Betty Lou, and father once sold vacuums?!), but because I gain new life insights every time I watch the movie. Really.
And what I’ve been thinking about recently when I watch it is the interplay of perception and reality, and how that influences one’s actions. For example, let’s take the scene where Vivian and Edward meet.
Vivian: Hey, sugar, you lookin’ for a date?
Edward: No. I want to find Beverly Hills. Can you give me directions?
Vivian: Sure. For five bucks.
Vivian: Price just went up to ten.
Edward: You can’t charge me for directions!
Vivian: I can do anything I want to, Baby; I ain’t lost.
Vivian looks every bit the part of a bimbo prostitute, while Edward looks every bit the part of a rich shit. But as Donny says in Gone in 60 Seconds, “Hell, you can’t drive, honey. Shit, I can’t swim; I know I can’t. So you know what I do, I stay my black ass out the pool!” Edward wisely acknowledges his inept helplessness, cedes control, moves his rich, smug, white ass out the driver’s seat, and accepts help from someone he totally misjudged. Vivian, on the other hand, simply takes a, what-the-hell, I-might-as-well-have-some-fun-and-get-something-out-of-it approach and jumps right in, indifferent to Edward’s initial, haughty disdain.
Once in the hotel, as Vivian and Edward are getting to know each other, they both continue to make assumptions based on what they perceive.
For Vivian’s part,
Edward: What makes you think I’m a lawyer?
Vivian: You have that sharp, useless look about you.
For Edward’s part,
Edward: All right, look. I do not want any drugs here.…Get your things and your money and please leave….What is this?…This is dental floss.
Vivian: Yeah? So? I had all those strawberry seeds. And you shouldn’t neglect your gums.
And then my second favorite tete-a-tete in the movie,
Edward: It’s just that, uh, very few people surprise me.
Vivian: Yeah, well, you’re lucky. Most of them shock the hell out of me.
It’s not shocking to admit that we frequently perceive something, jump to a sweeping conclusion, and then realize maybe we were just a little off the mark. The real problem isn’t that we were wrong. Instead, it’s that we act like we were correct anyway and take really stupid actions because we’d rather bend reality to our own views than consider another viewpoint. Next time you watch Pretty Woman, keep track of how many times perception and reality don’t coincide.
Chapter 81 of Tao-te-Ching puts it this way. “Those who know are not of broad knowledge / Those who are broad of knowledge do not know”
But, my favorite tete-a-tete about two thirds through the movie.
Vivian: People put you down enough, you start to believe it.
Edward: I think you … are a very bright, very special woman.
Vivian: The bad stuff is easier to believe.
We all have a tendency to perceive ourselves through the words and actions of others. Well maybe not the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but pretty much most of the rest of us. Trust me, though. That ain’t the best basis upon which to take action.
Chapter 33 of Tao-te-Ching succinctly advises, “Those who understand others are intelligent / Those who understand themselves are enlightened / Those who overcome others have strength / Those who overcome themselves are powerful.
Seemed to work for Vivian. Maybe there’s something in it for entrepreneurs after all.