Let’s just preface this with — when a movie means something to me, I couldn’t give the smallest amount of rat piss whether or not it is deemed “good” by the internet or Rotten Tomatoes or the critics or anyone else. Meaning isn’t something that gets assigned by a quorum of critics and a weighted score. Meaning is personal. Meaning begins and ends with the person who is the “me” at the front of it.
Most of the collective wisdom of the internet will tell you that “Secondhand Lions” is not quite bad enough to be awful. It’s “schmaltzy.” It’s “molasses-drenched” (I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very sticky). It’s “sentimental.”
Well, fine. I’m sentimental too. What’s your point?
But whether or not you fall in love with Robert Duvall and Michael Caine as a pair of retired brothers sitting on a wealth of stories and experience, whether or not you snort every time Haley Joel Osment’s voice cracks at the perfect moment, and whether or not the split narrative of loneliness in Texas and adventure in Africa (complete with B-movie stylings) works for you — there’s something to be gained in this movie.
Shake your head at the rest of it if you will.
But listen when Hub McCann starts to speak.
Around the midpoint of the movie, there is made mention of a speech given by Hub McCann, the “what every boy needs to know about being a man” speech. Which, truly, should be reframed as “what everyone needs to know about being a good person” because there is nothing that applies only to men here, and everything that applies to us all. We only get a piece of it, but it’s more than enough:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most — that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies. No matter if they’re true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in.
This speech, like the “invincible spell” of my favorite anime magical girl, has stuck with me a long, long time.
I am a deep, old-school believer in things like courtesy and honor. I believe in treating others gently, with full respect, and with sincere kindness — no matter how I feel about the kind of day I’m having or how I felt one moment before I looked into their face. I believe that every time I give my word, that is an unbreakable vow and oath; if I say I will do something, even if it is difficult, even if it comes late, even if it has to be shuttled amidst all the wreckage of my life, I will get it done. I believe in the promises that bind people, and I believe in leaving every encounter, every person, every place, every situation, better than I found it.
These are the things I choose to believe in, because, to me, they are worth the effort of that belief.
And it doesn’t matter that the person right behind me in line will be unkind to the cashier, or that I may keep a promise, but someone may not keep one to me. It doesn’t matter that someone weaves through traffic igniting ire and frustration in their wake. It doesn’t matter that the weight of my word given may mean little or nothing to the stranger who receives it.
I can’t control the other people in line, or the rude driver, or the person whose promise will never be kept. I can only control myself, and give into the world that which I believe is worth giving. So I give my best. I give my kindest. I give my honor. Even if I never get them back.
So I choose to believe that the rude person in the check-out line is deeply worried about money and is stressed and not sleeping, and has no more emotional energy to show respect. I choose to believe that the dangerous driver is racing to get to someone in need, perhaps a hospital, perhaps a child who is scared and alone. I choose to believe that the broken promise is not broken maliciously, but at the end of someone’s rope, a choice and a sacrifice made so that something more important may be accomplished instead.
And therefore I smile at the cashier, and hope my smile will be what they remember at the end of the day. I repeat my mantra for rude or inconsiderate driver, which is “may you get where you’re going safely and harm none on your way” because that’s the only thing that matters in the end, and I forgive the broken promise. It’s not self-indulgence or being holier-than-thou. It’s not me being smug that I have done the right thing and someone else has not.
I choose to believe in the best of people. Because people are worth believing in.
For every human being who is terrible, who is selfish, who is cruel, who is callous, there are people who are gloriously kind and loving and selfless and generous and true. And I will not let myself be counted amongst those too caught up in the world inside myself to remember the worlds inside others. I will be the best damn human being I can, and I will treat everyone who crosses my path with that much dignity and respect and kindness, until I have no breath or blood left. I choose to believe that people are amazing, that people are capable of fantastic good, that people all have something of value, something unique, to share and give.
Because any alternative is not worth believing in.
And you know what?
I’ve yet to be proven wrong.
When I tell my CONvergence team that I think they’re awesome, that’s not hyperbole. That’s not false praise. It’s because they astound me with the work they’re willing to do, with the efforts they undertake, with the kindness, dedication, focus, effort they bring to our team and our convention. When I tell my team that they are a group of people I trust and respect and cannot wait to work with, it’s because they are, and it’s all true.
It’s been said that a person becomes what they believe themself to be. And that’s certainly true — but it lacks the active part of choosing to believe. We don’t just become what we think. We become what we do.
I choose to believe in honor and courtesy and kindness and respect, and that is what I will do in this world.
But we also become what others believe about us. And when my CONvergence team tells me that they trust me, that they respect me, then I become a better member of the team. When they tell me that I am doing my job well and am helpful in adding my part to our collective efforts, then I am able to do even better and double down on my efforts.
I think we all become some mix of what we choose to believe, and of what others choose to believe.
But we can only choose for ourselves.
So I choose to believe in the things worth believing in, and I choose to believe in the inherent goodness and value of people. People on the street, in the store, in their cars, in the hallways, in the world. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not for every single one of them on every single day of their lives.
People are always worth the effort of belief. Always.