A Parable of Living Inside Out
So I had a conversation leading up to seeing the movie Inside Out with a friend about it’s age appropriateness. She let me know that the problem wasn’t really about appropriate but whether the message would go over young children’s heads. After seeing it I will say it’s clearly marketed to kids (and all but our 2 year old enjoyed it and that was no surprise) but it’s clearly messaged to adults and adolescents.
That said: take your kids to it anyway. We have make references to it almost daily. “Hey anger is driving the bus right now…” You may find it a helpful tool in talking to your kids about their emotions. My take away from the movie is that it is a great parable. The story is good (well, actually I only thought it was okay). But its power is not in the story, its power lies in what it can reveal and teach us about ourselves. In that way it is apocalyptic. It’s a revelation… or a pullback the curtain and see what has been kept hidden. And because I think those revelations are important I am going to briefly (I could say a lot more but where is the fun in that for you) unpack 4 messages (that’s more a tool to keep me brief than to be catchy with a list) I think it has for us. There are more message to be sure… why don’t you unpack your favorites in the comments.
- Core Memories
We all have foundational parts of who we are that drive our being. For the character in the movie it is family, friends, hockey, honesty, and goofiness. These core memories become a basis of a value system either consciously or unconsciously. This whole idea resonates well with the book I’m also reading right now and recommend to you: The Righteous Mind. It’s a study of moral development and one point the book makes is that we tend to judge people who have different opinions as being wrong than ourselves, or even, immoral. But they too have a morality. It just isn’t the same as ours, and it is founded in different core values/memories. Being in touch with what “drives” us is essential to understanding our conflicts with others who may well be driven by very different and competing values. And sometimes we are, in ourselves, driven by competing values. What happens when our lived experience doesn’t match up with our core values? We either double down on our values… or we give them up. Most of us don’t do the latter, so that means a lot of doubling down – even in the face of messages that tell us that doesn’t make sense.
- Mixed emotions
In the beginning of the movie the main character has memories that are singular. A moment of anger OR of joy… of fear OR of sadness. By the end (developmentally beginning adolescence) her moments and memories are far more mixed. A memory has elements of anger, sadness, and joy. Or maybe of disgust and fear that turns towards anger. We aren’t one note people. Diversity isn’t just something we seek externally, it’s something intrinsic to our own make up. So whether it’s the fact that joy and sorrow are less diametrically opposed than sides of the same coin, or that the voices (core memories, emotions, values…) in our own head are often sending us diverse and even contradictory messages an important lesson we have to learn is: there is multiple aspects of our character driving the “bus” at the same time.
The use of the word discernment is often used to talk about how we discern God’s calling. Or how we figure out something that is external to us: what college to go to, what vocation to seek… where to go to dinner. But discernment is also an internal process. We discern our own intentions by separating out the voices and values within us and determine which path we want to pursue. We are a mixed bag.
- Goodness of anger/sorrow
This one is really important to me for a couple of reasons. But basically one of the great journeys of this movie was the discovery that sadness wasn’t bad. Sadness plays an important part of our emotional make up and even sometimes leads us to good and joy-filled moments. If we cannot get in touch with how we feel (like being sad) we will not alter the circumstance we find ourselves in that is causing our distress. Our emotions are not good and bad, they just are. Joy pursued as an end (goal) in itself can be very destructive. Building a life unwilling to feel sadness… equally so.
Personally I had to go through this journey with regards to anger. I had an aversion to all anger. My experiences of it were bad and therefore I decided anger is bad and I suppressed it. This, of course, just made the problem worse. Because suppressed anger has to do one of two things to create an outlet: 1) turn in on itself thus making us self-abusive or 2) build up to a point of explosions. I call this the tea kettle effect. But it might also be a volcano. This is what gets us rage. Rage was what my problem was from the beginning. So trying to solve the problem… I was causing it. Learning to have a healthy respect and expression of anger has been key to my own development out of (I think I’m out) adolescents… just as it is with sadness for the character in the movie.
- Open Book
This is the core learning of the parable of Inside Out. Yes, learn to know what motivates you. Learn to identify what parts of your core self are driving the bus with your priorities and values. And understand that most often multiple aspects of your own inner values are competing for control of the goal. Yes, gain a healthy respect for all your emotions and feelings (ie resist shame and bottling up and feeling guilty). But in the end I think it comes down to this: live open. The great moment in this movie is when the mom turns to her daughter and says (being well meaning and I’m paraphrasing here), “Dad just needs us to be happy right now.”
I think every parent cringed at that moment. Forget that. Every person did. They didn’t cringe because the mom said it. They cringed because WE have said it. And it’s such a horrible message to send to others and to our self. The spirals of hurt that happen when we feel the need to bottle up our own self and our pain and hide it away because someone else needs us to be happy… well we could drown the world in that pain. One of the things I tell every couple in multiple different ways when I am doing premarital work is this: getting married means you do not have the right to shield your partner from your struggles. Those hardships are no longer YOUR (individual) struggles. They are YOUR (shared) struggles. The same is true of kids to parents, of siblings to siblings… of any kind of community that seeks authentic and shared journey.
If you come away from this movie with no other message than to learn to be comfortable allowing yourself to feel and to be open about what you feel? Then you got it. You got the message.
Live your inside world… outside. Live Inside Out!