“This is Us” and Bran Stark: A Lesson in Understanding and Compassion

You read that right.

Two of my favorite TV series this decade are GoT and This is Us, and I am glad that both shows support my theory on compassion, which I’ve written about on this blog a couple of times.

I just started watching “This is Us,” and I haven’t even finished watching the first season yet, but already this show has made me cry so many times, not because it’s sentimental but because the characters and their stories are so real and so relatable. No one is extremely bad nor extremely good. They are ordinary people, even the Hollywood actor seems normal (and he does admit he is normal and contrasts himself with the stage actress who is not true to herself.) The stories that really speak to me are the loss of a child, the loss of a father, the worries about starting a family — all those feelings I had when those things happened to me came back as fresh as if they happened yesterday, and it was a cathartic experience. True, most of the characters are beautiful and well-to-do and American, yet first and foremost, they are human and their emotions are not unique to them in their time and place. These emotions are universal. I guess the title of the show is quite apt as it is really about “us”. “Us” being whoever is saying it.

The narrative structure of “This is Us” allows audiences to see and understand the development of the characters, why they act or behave the way they do, thru flashbacks, and this is one reason why there are no extremely good or bad character in this show — because the viewers, who are the ultimate judges of who is good or bad — are made to understand the present person by looking at how they evolved through the years of a variety of experiences with different people in different situations.

In reality this is how we become who we are. We are shaped by our experiences and the people we meet and influence us. This is why, ideally, the people who know us best are our family, especially our parents who have seen us grow. Unfortunately many people grow distant from their parents over the years, hence what parents knew to be their child is different from what their child has actually become. However However, there are children who remain very close to their discerning parents, and these are the ones who have the benefit of having somebody who can accept them for who they truly are. These parents are a witness to their children’s lives and can understand why the children have become such and can therefore accept them and love them unconditionally.

(Just like in “This is Us,” “GoT” also made viewers change their mind about a character, from hating him to loving him. Jaime Lannister was hateful before it was revealed how he sacrificed his name to save the realm.)

My point is this: if we could only know everything that has happened to a person that we know or know of, in the same way that we are getting to know the characters of “This is Us” with every flashback in each episode, then we probably wouldn’t be too hasty or even cruel in our judgment of them. We would probably even become forgiving because we understand what made them become such. We do not have to be their friend or be close to them, but we do not have to hate them either.

Now this brings me to Bran Stark. Bran has become the Three-eyed Raven, which means he now holds the knowledge of the past, present and future, and because he knows EVERYTHING, he understands everything. Bran never gets angry nor says angry words, not even to Little Finger. He may seem cold, emotion-less, but I think deep down, he understands and has compassion because he has seen and sees everything.

Then there’s Jesus. As he was dying on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I am guessing he can forgive because being God, he is omniscient, all-knowing, and therefore he understands everything about us, poor human beings.

As the year comes to an end, I hope you find the energy, the patience to try to know people before you judge them.

Some things to ponder at the end of 2018:

1. What are some of the things you are grateful for in 2018?

2. What do you look forward to in 2019?

I hope you find many things to be grateful for and to look forward to! 🙏🏽💕

T.

On Compassion, Forgiveness and the Brain

daenerys drogon

Photo source

Have you ever been extremely angry with somebody that you imagined you were Daenerys riding Drogon which was breathing fire on to your enemies?

(Fortunately for me, I have not been that angry with any one person in a long time, but only with a group of people terrorizing my beautiful island of Mindanao, oh yeah. I was so angry that in my imagination, I didn’t even have to be Daenerys. I was happy just to be Drogon!)

Don’t you find it exhausting when you dislike this person so much, but this person just can’t disappear from your life? You hear people talking about him/her, and it’s worse when he/she is doing so well while you aren’t?

For us, humans, anger towards somebody is most often accompanied by its best friend, jealousy. Those two are perhaps the ugliest, meanest pair ever. They will keep you awake at night, make you lose your appetite, then your energy.

If you’re smart or meet the right people who can help you get rid of that ugly pair, then lucky you. If not, that pair will ruin your life.

A few months ago, I started reading Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars. For some reason I could not finish reading it, but a couple of weeks ago I picked it up again and read the chapter called “A Surgeon’s Life,” which is about Dr. Carl Bennett (a pseudonym), a surgeon who has Tourette’s Syndrome.

This chapter was truly an eye-opener for me, and I’m writing about this because I am hoping this can somehow also make my readers re-evaluate how we judge our fellow human beings.

Dr. Bennett is highly respected by his colleagues and patients, and despite his tics, is able to perform surgery efficiently as if he didn’t have Tourette’s at all. He said the outward expressions of his Tourette’s that most people see are not the worst problems he has to face. The real ones are those within — panic and rage. In his words,

                “It’s not gentle….You can see it as whimsical, funny — be tempted to romanticize it —   but Tourette’s comes from deep down in the nervous system and the unconscious. It taps    into the oldest, strongest feelings we have. Tourette’s is like an epilepsy in the  subcortex.; when it takes over, there’s just a thin line of control, a thin line of cortex,  between you and it, between you and that raging storm, the blind force of the subcortex.     One can see the charming things, the funny things, the creative side of Tourette’s, but there’s also that dark side. You have to fight it all your life.”

At home, Dr. Bennett can give expression to this rage, not directed at people but at inanimate objects around him. His wall, his refrigerator are witnesses to this rage. One wall is covered with knife marks.

Scary? I find this very sad. That a human being who does not want to be violent CANNOT CHOOSE not to be violent.

Dr. Bennett is fortunate enough to have a family that understands and accepts him and helps him deal with all of these. But not everyone is as fortunate as Dr. Bennett. I wonder how many people out there have undiagnosed neurological disorders, committing crimes which they could not help doing? They don’t even know why they are doing it, or perhaps they think they know why they are doing it; but do they really?

I wonder if a brain scan is required of every criminal, how many of these people we would find to have neurological disorders?

This question led me to think how the human brain is very much like a computer. Just as computers have software-related problems such as viruses and bugs, the human brain can have chemical imbalance or viral infections. And just like computers that can have hardware-related problems such as overheating, a malfunctioning chip or a motherboard failure, our brain can also suffer from head or brain injuries.

When your computer is defective, do you try to save it or do you discard it, right away?

It seems computers are luckier than humans because we can easily see that our computer has a problem, and our initial reaction is to find out what caused it and how to fix it.

But with a human being, if his brain has a problem but it’s undiagnosed, we right away judge the person according to his actions without asking whether he has control over his actions or not.

What is worse is we label these people as crazy, nuts, wacko, lunatic, deranged, etc. without even knowing what caused them to become such people. Perhaps  you have heard or read about people who were known to be gentle or kind, and all of a sudden murdered somebody. People express shock or disbelief, saying it was totally out of character.

Here are some ways people can suddenly change:

Trauma to the brain can cause a drastic change in personality. 

Alcohol and drugs (medications) can change a person’s personality. 

Viral infections in the brain can cause a change in personality. 

Certain foods and food  ingredients like MSG can affect your behavior. 

Now, going back to my first question: Have you ever been extremely angry with somebody that you imagined you were Daenerys riding Drogon which was breathing fire on to your enemies?

If you have or you still are extremely angry with somebody, ask yourself whether it’s possible this person has a hardware or software-related problem in his brain, and perhaps he has no control over some of his thoughts and actions, just like, sometimes, you have no control over some of your own thoughts and actions.

And when you realize that we are all in the same boat, then you would hopefully understand your fellow human being, and perhaps forgiving will be a little bit easier (but, of course, be smart about it!)

I wonder if that is what prompted Jesus to utter these words when he was crucified: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

When he said those words, He became the epitome of compassion and forgiveness.

 

Note:

A couple of years ago a friend and I talked about whether human beings have free will or not. Back then I wasn’t really convinced that we don’t, but mostly because I did not have the time to think about it and read about it more. But now I think my friend may be on to something. 🙂 He wrote a book called Without Free Will. It’s well-written and thought-provoking. Check it out.