I remember being 14, just starting high school, young, dumb, thinking I knew everything, and going to a high school group at church on Wednesday evenings. OK, technically I did not go to church on those Wednesday evenings. We met at the house of a young couple who ran the high school program there. Coming to the end of my freshman year, they decided to play a movie, to do something a bit different. And on their television screen, back in the good old days of VHS tapes, played a movie about sexual harassment, kidnapping, murder, and a government engineering a war to consolidate power. As much as it sounds like a documentary about the Obama or Trump administrations, depending on what side of the political aisle you may fall, it was not. Because this prescient film celebrated it’s anniversary 30 years ago and reminds me of everything I learned from 2017. Shall I tell you about it? As you wish.
As you might have guessed, if you were not living out in the jungle since 1980, or born somewhere after 1998, I speak of the film The Princess Bride. The wonderfully irreverent film was directed by none other than Rob Reiner of “Big Bottom” fame. In it, he told the wonderful tale of a man stolen away from his true love, only to find her when it was already too late, almost. Because with true love, there is no such thing as too late. And Wesley swoops in to save his Buttercup from a fate worse than death, Mawage. I mean marriage, or something like that anyway.
So as I got to thinking about the things I learned this past year, which I could put into one blog post (I’m not sure this is even possible.), words from the Princess Bride kept haunting me. Or maybe the six fingered man haunted my nightmares. I can never tell. At first I thought about merely telling you that it changed my world just to drive you crazy and start 2018 with an angry audience. But then Andre the Giant haunted me in a dream and told me if I didn’t change my ways I would end up like Ebeneezer Scrooge. After much thinking, and wondering if someone had slipped something into my milk, I figured I would share how the Princess Bride perfectly encapsulated the year 2017. (Andre the Giant in Marley chains is a scary sight indeed.)
Of course, for those of you who haven’t watched The Princess Bride yet, don’t wait for the ghost of Andre the Giant come to beat you over the head. Just go and watch it so that you can understand all the references. Because if you don’t, you might have Miracle Max come and pronounce you almost dead. And you don’t want that either. So enough wasting time. Without further ado, I present to you the ten lessons from The Princess Bride that encapsulated everything I learned in 2017 . . . almost.
Everything I Learned From 2017 – The Princess Bride Edition
10) “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
While life may not be all about pain, pain happens, just as other bodily functions do. And as I have stated earlier, pain has an intensely useful purpose. How we respond to this pain defines who we are. Without pain, we do not grow in any sense of the word. Unfortunately, far too many charlatans are out there trying to sell you some elixir to take away that pain. Whether this be a politician selling you a bill of goods about how they are the answer to everything, or whether some quack comes by to prescribe you medication to numb the pain away, the world seems to be inundated with too many people who sell you on elimination of pain. One, don’t believe them. And two, even if they could, it creates other hazards which could be far worse.
(One caveat. This does not mean I advocate going against medical device, or using some pain medication to cope with debilitating pain. I have had kidney stones and realize they are necessary sometimes. Just realize pain gives opportunities for growth as much as it hurts. So don’t advocate for its elimination.)
9) Inigo Montoya: “You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.”
The Man in Black: “You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.”
Far to often in the world today, we hate those who think differently than us. We hide out in our enclaves, convinced of our own self-righteousness. Unfortunately, we fail to see our own shortcomings when we surround ourselves with “yes” people. What we need to do is go out there and make contact with the other side. I know they seem alien to us, but I believe once you get to know them, you might not be as hell bent on killing them as you once were. And then you might be in danger of liking the other person, and compromising over something which you previously disagreed on. But we wouldn’t want to do that would we? So on with the killing.
8) “I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills. There’s not a lot of money in revenge.”
It’s interesting how much we waste our time defending our right to be offended. We sit on twitter waiting for something over which to take offense and then we pounce, feeling justified in our anger. Or we pass on tweets talking about how the other fellow insults us so we should insult them back. One thing social media has done poorly is create a world where we are always less than the best. We have become a world of enviers, consistently violating the 10th commandment. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, following this commandment makes a lot of sense. Because without gratefulness, we can never be happy. And with perpetual envy, we are never grateful. So someone else must be at fault, and we must take revenge. Doesn’t pay a lot though, does it?
7) “I do not envy you the headache you will have when you awake. But for now, rest well and dream of large women.”
The man in black just took out the giant. Does he hate on him? No. He reminds him and everyone to stay in the present. Do not try to get ahead of yourself. So many out there this year cannot stay in the present. The world comes at them 100 miles an hour and they cannot just sit and relax and be at peace. But we desperately need to be at peace in the now, and not worry about the headaches of the future before they have even arrived. So I will rest now. And I’ll worry about the large women later.
6) Vizzini: “Finish him. Finish him, your way.”
Fezzik: “Oh good, my way. Thank you Vizzini… what’s my way?”
Vizzini: “Pick up one of those rocks, get behind a boulder, in a few minutes the man in black will come running around the bend, the minute his head is in view, hit it with the rock.”
Fezzik: “My way’s not very sportsman-like.”
In the world today, we have people constantly trying to tell us our anger is justified. And because we have righteous anger, we can do whatever we want with that anger. Which of course means picking up a boulder and crushing our foe, or something like that. But when we destroy good men, like a Mitt Romney, what are we to do when truly evil people come into our midst. By our actions, we give no room for people to be wrong. We assume their evilness. We need to be more like Fezzik instead. Think about how we handle those who would oppose us. Realize the difference between wrong and evil. Don’t allow yourself to become the evil you decry.
5) Vizzini: “He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!”
Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I think we have reached a crazy world in language today. When you can obviously see two different people using language to mean two diametrically opposed things, you know the world is upside down. And what’s worse, I am not sure we can bring it back. Because we separate ourselves further by how we educate ourselves, and what things we seek truth in. I bemoan the loss of a common language, a common science, and a common understanding of what virtue means. What I have come to believe is the words people use exist as blunt instruments for destruction instead of as instruments used to bring truth. Whether civil war is next, who knows? But I hope not. I advocate on getting back together and reaching a common understanding about language, dialogue, and values. If we are so different, maybe we need to find a way to reach an amicable breakup. Because in war, no one wins.
4) “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!”
I have covered the revenge angle of this earlier, but now I want to speak of this as a means of remembering we reap what we sow. Whether it be Karma divine justice, the things we bring into our lives come up far down the road. Every choice leads to an action. I have seen this with the way my dad eats and his health. I have seen this in the way relationships go. When you treat people a certain way, what can you expect from others when they in turn treat you that way? Relationships get damaged beyond repair. I think that should cause us to want to bridle our tongues, and think before we do something. Unfortunately, in a world that elevates feelings to the level of truth, we struggle maintaining healthy relationships. The death of those relationships ensues. Hopefully it does not become accompanied by a blade to the heart.
3) Vizzini: “I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains.”
Man in Black: “You’re that smart?”
Vizzini: “Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?”
Man in Black: “Yes,”
I think one of the greatest lessons of literature repeated over and over again throughout is the warning against hubris. We want to think we know it all, and that somehow our knowledge exceeds those who have come before us. But I think hubris happens when we fail to distinguish between wisdom and knowledge. Because we might “know more” does not make us better people. Without the ability to apply the knowledge we have, we become a danger to ourselves and those around us. Knowledge in the hands of a sociopath destroys. Why should we assume that because we know more, we are better. Sometimes the statues of those awful people are a reminder to us not to repeat the path they took. Instead, take the time to listen to our elders, and learn the lessons of the past, or we are doomed to repeat it’s mistakes. And I am certainly not up for a repeat of World War II or the Civil War if at all possible.
2) Dread Pirate Roberts: “Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
It’s one of the oddest quotes and most memorable from The Princess Bride. And why do I put it in my list of lessons from 2017 you ask? Good Question. The truth is, every day we start fresh, with new expectations and new goals. On the one hand, the sins of our past can haunt us. They do not define us, however. We will be judged based upon what we do today. It doesn’t matter what we have done in the past, if we cannot remember where we are presently, we will fail. So it’s a good lesson to take with you into 2018. Don’t say inappropriate things. And remember that we will be judged on what we do, right this moment. I think far too often we have come to realize that what we might have thought of as a throwaway line can come back to haunt us. And just between you and me, I’m hoping to survive the Dread Pirate Roberts mid-morning massacre.
1) Buttercup: “You can die too for all I care!”
[pushes him down a high hill]
Man In Black: “AS… YOU… WISH!”
Buttercup: “[realizes the Man in Black is Westley] Oh, my sweet Westley! What have I done?”
While as you wish becomes one of the more beautiful and romantic lines recited throughout the film, in this instance it has one particular meaning. Yes, as you wish represented Wesley’s sacrificial love for Buttercup. But it also was the perfect reminder to Buttercup of the problem of anger. Because what you do in anger, you cannot take back. Luckily for the loving couple, she did not need to regret the actions she took. But if he had broken his neck falling down a hill, she would have regretted it for the rest of her days. Today we have too many people going off half cocked. And they don’t realize the damage they do, until it’s too late. They cannot take back what they have put out into the world.
Secondarily, your anger can hurt those you love, even when directed at people you do not like. Buttercup may have been directed at the Dread Pirate Roberts. But Wesley took the beating. Now, you can argue Wesley was to blame for not telling her sooner. But if she had not lashed out like she had and waited to find out, she would have done more appropriate things with those feelings. You may have been hurt by someone, but striking back can cause collateral damage to those you love most.
Continue The Conversation
Of course there are a ton of other quotes I could have nabbed from there, like: “I just took one year of your life away. How do you feel?” And “will they make it to the castle? It’ll be a miracle.” But then I would be in danger of writing another novel, which I think I have written enough of this year. But as I said before, if you haven’t seen this movie, you need to. With Robin Wright Penn, Christopher Guest, Carey Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal, and a ton of others, you will learn life lessons, as you laugh your head off. If I had a way to choose how to learn lessons, that is how I would go. But you can take the Melbourne Method. More power to you.
So what things did you take away from this year? How do you feel about everything I learned from 2017? What lessons have you learned? And if you have seen The Princess Bride, who was your favorite Character? As always, I would love hearing from you.
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life