All of us are incomplete. We’re all good at some things, but lousy at others.
This is why we need each other. Some are born teachers, others mechanics. Some are math wizards. Others write songs like “White Christmas,” or “Hotel California.” Some can transform tree trunks into furniture. Others perform heart surgery.
There’s so much variety to the human experience that it’s difficult to find any unifying threads.
But there are four things we all need if we’re going to get anywhere as individuals, as societies, or as a human race.
We need reasonable amounts of empathy, intelligence, gumption, and faith.
Empathy enables us to understand the actions, feelings and motivations of people who are different than us, and to respect their worth as fellow-humans regardless of our mutual differences.
Intelligence enables us to correctly connect the dots as we grapple with all of life’s endeavors—from the school yard to the backyard, and to the workplace.
Gumption is the inner motor that moves us forward, compelling us, independent of all others, to reach, try, grow, fail, recover, and try again.
Faith is the internal assurance that the application of empathy, intelligence, and gumption is actually worth the effort.
Please don’t think I was smart enough to come up with these lofty ideas by myself. I learned them by watching The Wizard of Oz.
As you recall, the 1939 movie introduced us to Dorothy, the little Kansas girl swept away by a tornado to the suburbs of the land of Oz. To return home she must travel to the Emerald City and convince the Wizard to send her back. Having no practical alternatives, she has faith this will happen. On the way she meets three individuals who join her journey: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion.
Her new friends all have strengths, but each has a glaring weakness. The Scarecrow has no brains. The Tin Man, no heart. And the Lion has no courage.
Each sings a song that laments the trait he lacks:
“…and my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’, if I only had a brain.”
“…I’d be friends with the sparrows, and the boy who shoots the arrows, if I only had a heart.”
“…But I could show my prowess, be a lion, not a mou-ess, if I only had the nerve.”
By the end of the movie, each discovers within himself the trait he lacks, and in so doing becomes, finally, complete.
I’m going to suggest we could all learn a thing or two from the wisdom of 1939.
The great tales of epic quests, from The Lord of the Rings to The Odyssey to The Wizard of Oz endure because they not only entertain us, they show us ourselves, and the traits of greatness we all instinctively seek. These lessons must be relearned as each new crop of children enters maturity.
Our children must be taught heart: the empathy that cures selfishness.
They must be taught to pursue intelligence as the cure for simple-minded, one-sided explanations of how the world works, to avoid the pain of discovery that such explanations ultimately fail.
They must develop the gumption to never be satisfied with what others say is enough, but to push forward in their own search for meaning, happiness, and success.
This isn’t just for children, by the way. We all are sometimes guilty of the same weaknesses, as we accept without question the thoughts of others for our own, without consideration of the motives of those we follow.
Finally, there’s the factor of faith. In the Emerald City, Dorothy and her friends learn that the man behind the curtain isn’t everything he, and others, have promised. That happens with humans. The discovery forces them to re-evaluate the faith that has guided them. In the end they do not lose faith, but discover its true center: the inner voice that instinctively guides them to become their best self, regardless of what the crowds are chanting.
Empathy, intelligence, gumption, and faith. If enough of us follow our own Yellow Brick Road to discover these traits within us, then we’ve all got a chance.