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Lessons from Groundhog Day and The Dark Knight

Your time is precious so I’ll start with the conclusion: Ask what you can do for others and you will enjoy the joy you create in them. Desperation changes people in ways you can’t control. Be kind to those who are desperate.

Spoilers begin here

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray discovers that he has to relive the same day infinitely. When he dies, he re-starts the same day. When he sleeps, he restarts the same day. With this power, he begins by indulging in the freedom to live with no consequences, but he soon tires of that life philosophy. The lesson is short term fun is exactly as described: short term.

He then spends time gathering secret information about everyone so that he can use them for his own personal gain. By knowing the future, he can take from others. He robs, steals, lies, and gets what he wants that he never could have before. But then he eventually tires of this too because again: getting what you want is a short term source of joy. It doesn’t last you to the next 1,000 days of your life. Get it once and the thrill is over. Get the same thing 100x and it will bore you. The lesson here is goals in life are not the meaning of life.

He then spends time trying to kill himself and give up on life. However, every time he dies he just wakes up and has to live again. So he decides he to try doing good things for other people. He takes advantage of his deep knowledge of everyone and of the future, and he takes care of everyone he meets. As he does this, he discovers that there are things he wants to learn, like poetry, playing the piano, and ice sculpting. He starts trying activities and living a life of exploration and learning. The next lesson is: bettering yourself and approaching life with a learner’s mindset can give you a reason to live.

Then he starts noticing that suffering is going on around him, so in addition to doing things to help people he meets, he goes out of his way to help those he notices are suffering. That is, until he meets the ultimate test: someone who is destined to die on this day. He tries multiple times to save this person’s life, but he ultimately learns that he cannot stop death. This is a significant lesson: don’t spend your time fighting the inevitable, your efforts will go to waste.

So he puts instead his energy into making every moment that he has as fulfilling and joyous as possible. He learns skills to improve the mood of those around him. And he learns to ask the question: What can I do for you today? And with this life philosophy, he is able to bear the repetition of doing that forever. That is the final lesson: your life begins when you start living for others and not yourself.

In the Dark Knight, Batman says the Mob crossed a line when they started murdering police officials in their homes and offices. Batman’s butler told Batman that he crossed the line first when he took their money and forced them into desperation. What fascinates me about this scene is how Batman himself is the cause, but he pins the cause on others. He lacked the knowledge to see how his own actions led to the actions of others. He also underestimated what desperation would lead to.

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5 Self Reflection Questions for Self Quarantine

  1. Of my friends and family today, which ones would I trust to answer my call if I had coronavirus?
  2. If I knew in January what I know today (3/21/20), would I have lived my life in January the same way?
  3. What is the top regret that I didn’t do when I had the chance?
  4. What is the top regret that I did do in the past?
  5. What do I need most right now?

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