Self-help and historical memory

These are the movies I’ve watched in the past few days

The Secret

In the same line as What the bleep do we know, The Secret is sort of a documentary about one of the guiding laws of the universe – the law of attraction. In very basic terms, according to the law of attraction, you receive what you project. If you are a happy, positive person that truly believes that people are nice, guess what? Happy, positive things will happen to you and people will be nice. If all you can think about is debt, then debt will accumulate. Despite the self-helpy tone of the movie, I think the message is an important one.

Some people have a hard time with this kind of idea because it forces them to take responsibility for their own misfortunes. You can no longer simply say “life is hard” or “people are unfriendly”, you need to take a deep look into yourself and think about what kind of emotion/feeling you are projecting.

Call it positive thinking, law of attraction, the idea is not really new. Alan and I have always believed in some form of this and already practice much of what the movie preaches. We basically assume things will go well and they always do. We came to Spain predetermined to love it, we assumed Spaniards are great and that we would make many friends, and that’s what happened. I don’t think it’s a matter of luck, I think it’s a matter of attitude.

While most of it wasn’t new, I found one idea in the movie to be really interesting. We all know we shouldn’t think negatively, but that can be taken even more literally. The authors of The Secret propose that to get more results we have to approach our campaigns in more positive terms. For instance, instead of parading against war, we should be parading for peace. Instead of fighting against hunger, we should focus on guaranteeing access to food. It makes sense. Mother Theresa once refused an invitation to participate in an anti-war rally, she said “when you have a peace rally, let me know”.

Here are some bits from the movie:

Lives of Others

Wow. What a movie. It’s not surprising it won the Foreign Language Motion Picture award at the Oscars this year. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. It deals with life in a totalitarian regime in a very real way, without falling into cliches and stereotypes. Do I hear the influence of the recent historiographical tradition in Germany of studying the history of everyday life? Maybe. All I know is that it captures very well the sort of grey areas of a dictatorial regime, the hard choices people are faced in their daily life.


After the movie, we went out to grab something to eat with a Chilean friend. We started talking about dictatorships, historical memory, nationalism and guilt. Francisca is a PhD in Sociology and she says one of the things one notices when coming to Europe from overseas is how Germany is perceived as the bad guy here. Everything of bad that ever happened in Europe is considered Germany’s fault. The Germans themselves are trying to come to terms with their own guilt which has led to the suppression of any demonstration of nationalism – there’s no national day to commemorate, and apart from the World Cup , the waving of German flags is considered bad taste.

She thinks that’s unfair because the countries that point fingers towards Germany – France, England, even Spain – have failed to assess their own guilts from their history of wars and colonialism. She finds appalling that Spaniards don’t learn anything about the colonization of the Americas in school. It’s true that no country really teaches the parts of their history that makes the nation look bad – when they teach history at all, that is.
I think the way Germany has been encouraging and investing on preserving historical memory and fighting nationalism is healthy. Citizens should know about the good and the bad in their own history and be able to be critical of their own nation without being blinded by rhetoric of an unconditional love for the fatherland. Maybe we can all learn a thing or two from them.

Another link here.

The positive side of being forgetful

I’ve been studying hard since I started my undergraduate degree back in January 2000. One of the side effects of this life devoted to books and knowledge is my increasing absent-mindness and forgetfulness (I tell Alan I’m training to be an absent-minded professor). I’m always forgetting the little things of daily life. But even that has its good side: I’m constantly finding money in my pockets or that I “forgot” I had. When we were packing our stuff to move last week, I found 40 euros (2 x 20 euro bills)lying under some books on my desk. The receipt with it indicates that it dates back to our trip to Portugal in December. Today I reached into my jeans’ pocket and found a 5 euro bill. Of course, to be able to “find” this money I had to have lost it before but truth is, I’ve been so forgetful these days that I never remember I even had that money so it never really feels like I lost any. I just assume I must have spent it… So it feels like finding money on the street ;) And 5 euros is enough to buy lunch at the bakery near the archives! woooohooo