In the film Donny Darko we are presented with a self-help guru with a simple-minded solution to life's problems.
As usual his mindless followers dogmatically push the message.
Released in 2001, I think of Donny Darko as a typical 90s film - nihilistic, cynical. The teenager is the only one with open eyes. Adults are moronic at best, and often corrupt.
When I first saw the film I was struck by an ancient Zen saying:
Before my Zen training, I thought that rivers were rivers, and mountains were mountains. When I deepened my training, I saw that rivers were not rivers, and mountains were not mountains. Now that I have realised the way, I see that rivers are rivers, and mountains are mountains.
The first and third perspective look the same - rivers are rivers - but they are very different. The first stage is naive. Then in the second stage the student is no longer a fool - they think critically. In the third stage they come to recognise a profound truth, best expressed in the original, simple statement.
This is how it is with the reduction of life to Swayze's "love and fear." It appears naive, but the cleverness which sees through that naivety is itself blind, even if it is more sophisticated. There is a deeper truth. The trouble with the critical adolescent is that they have not yet achieved the insight that comes with a properly adult response to one's own suffering. And many people do not make it beyond adolescence, despite their grey hair.
The highest good in life is love. Not any love of course - not selfish desire or fantasy - but love that shows itself in purity of intention, courage, truthfulness, justice, and a determination toward such as these. It is the highest thing we know. Love is the essence of the virtues. Genuine love gives strength to your heart and hands, and clarity to your mind.
And the opposite of love? Profound thinkers like Hannah Arendt, who wrote of "the banality of evil," do not believe that it is hate. Rather its opposite is fear. Smallness of heart. Pusillanimity. I think this issue is more complicated, but I am willing to say that love has two opposites, one being malevolence, the other fear. And fear is the more common.
The person who fails to stand by what they know is right or true, usually does so out of fear. Likewise, the person who betrays another usually does so out of cowardice - it takes courage to look at the corruption in one's own heart and to restrain it. The person who fails to rise to the challenges and opportunities of a full, adult life - instead becoming dependent or resentful - generally does so out of fear.
Cleverness is often the refuge of cowards. Like the boy in Swayze's infomercial, you can choose love, and stop wetting your bed.