I love the movie Across the Universe. It touched me somewhere deep inside. I grew up listening to The Beatles. I walked down the aisle to All You Need Is Love. I often feel like I was born in the wrong era. I was surely meant to be a 60s flower child! Yet here I am, in 2013, and I cry every time I watch this film.
Across the Universe covers a wide array of topics I believe are blog-worthy, but the one I’d like to focus on today is from the scene depicted above. Here’s the relevant dialogue (thank you IMDB):
Max’s Father: Goddammit, Max! Get serious, for once! What are you going to DO with your life?
Max: Why is it always what will I do? “What will he do”, “What will he do,” “Oh, my god what will he do”, Do, do, do, do, do. Why isn’t the issue here who I am?
Uncle Teddy: Because, Maxwell, what you do defines who you are.
Max: No, Uncle Teddy. Who you are defines what you do. Right Jude?
Jude: [awkward] … Well, surely it’s not what you do, but the, uh… the way that you do it.
How do we feel about this fellow humans? Are Jude and Max right? At what point does what you do become who you are? That’s easy to answer if you are a sales clerk or customer service representative. Of course those jobs don’t define us.
But watch what happens when we exchange those somewhat commonplace and conventional professions for something more prestigious. Doctors and CEOs for example tend to over identify with their roles. Why not? They are “successful” by our society’s standards because they make loads of money and have lots of power. It makes sense for them to ally their identity with their professions.
It gets more interesting when you think about jobs that are considered taboo or downright undesirable by society’s standards. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and throughout history women who sell their bodies for money have been regarded as social pariah. Again, we can see how the chosen profession in this case would cause an over-identification with what we do. The title “whore” goes much deeper than how they earn their living. Imagine calling someone a “salesman” with the same contempt as people sometimes use the word whore. Kind of silly, isn’t it?
I realize I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I should mention that another one of my favorite films was Pretty Woman. The “hooker with the heart of gold” story really connected with me, even at a very young age. I like the idea that people are just people, and just because she earned her living doing something other people deem unworthy, didn’t make her a “bad” person. Imagine how different the subtext of that movie would be if it were titled Fallen Woman, which, by the way, is the exact term that comes up in the online thesaurus when you search the word “whore.”
So ultimately, when I think about this issue, I guess I do agree with Jude when he says surely it’s not what you do but the way you do it. The fourth Reiki precept is “earn your living honestly.” I think that can be done whether you’re a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer or a prostitute.
What’s more important than what you do to earn money is how you treat people while doing it.