Just occasionally, we come across something – a person, a performance, a project – that metaphorically hits us in the solar plexus. An encounter so stunning that it takes time to process; for all that, we intuit its significance, even if we don’t quite know why. The experience can be unsettling, and yet it’s compelling, too, reminding us that there’s more to life than the familiar paths and patterns we so easily follow.
By their very nature, we can’t know when these encounters will occur. This is why it’s so important to be open to new – and even challenging – possibilities. The idea that we’ll find fresh insight and invention every day is a sort of contradiction in terms. And while that might be comfortable for some, it’s not the route to growth – be it in business, in life, or simply in ourselves.
In my case, the latest instance happened at the movies.
Banshees of Inisherin and Life’s Purpose
A few weeks ago, I went to see the magnificent (indeed, I’d go so far as to call it a masterpiece) Banshees of Inisherin. Directed by Martin McDonagh, the film has won a plethora of awards and is about as far from a Spielberg blockbuster as you could imagine. Yet, so impactful did I find it that I’ve replayed it in my mind ever since: its beauty, its layering, the dark comedy that compliments an unfolding as brutal as it is mesmeric.
But the purpose of my writing here is not to critique the movie. You can find that elsewhere, and many of you may already have seen it. For those who haven’t, the narrative centers on the unraveling of a friendship in the background of the Irish Civil War. It explores themes of life’s purpose, despair, honesty, and humanity – and in truth, that’s a shortened list, for I could just as easily have chosen retribution, fate, or even mythology. And if all that sounds complex, then I guess it is.
Quality Comes at a Price
But then, that’s the way with quality; it’s never fake or superficial, which means it invariably comes at a price. The cost isn’t necessarily financial; it might be cerebral or emotional, requiring tough choices or letting go of that which we yearn to hold onto. As I write, I’m aware these too are themes of the film…. But aren’t they also themes of life and love and (dare I say it) even leadership, in its broadest sense?
Robert Pirsig, who wrote Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, argued that quality was inextricable from care; that almost anything we do is better experienced – or managed – if we have a deeply felt concern for the issue at hand. And while I can’t prove that theory, I can sense its intuitive wisdom. Perhaps the genius of the Banshees of Inisherin is that as I watched — at times open-mouthed — I felt the agony of the characters and was so desperately sad at the inevitability of their fates – even that of the poor wee donkey!
There’s No Going Back
The ending, like this piece, is open to interpretation. But one message is clear: we can’t undo the past, just as I can’t un-watch the film. The truth is, some choices are so significant — and some events so seminal —that there’s no going back. That’s not a reason not to make them, though, because, unsettling though they are, they are also the ones that make life worth the candle.