Friday, February 06, 2009

Lessons from Gran Torino

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven't seen Gran Torino and plan to, you may not want to read this post just yet. If you haven't, I highly recommend you see it. Once you have, please comment and add your own reflections to this list.

Here are some of my reflections and little life lessons from Gran Torino.

You can "kill" (win over) people with kindness. I was impressed with Sue's ability to see past a grouchy old man and his racist comments. Sue was wise enough to know she had something to offer Walt. He needed the unconditional love her family, and the community, offered him...and he eventually figured out he had much to offer as well.

Look deeper than the surface. Sue did this. Not only did she look past the racist comments herself, but she took Walt into her world to challenge her own family to get past their assumptions about him and challenged him to get past his assumptions about the Hmong. She was a great teacher who saw something more. As a result, his honesty and lack of tact challenged her and her brother to make wiser choices to live up to their own worth and value.

Little things done in and by the community make big changes. In the Hmong culture, family name was important so Tao had to work for Walt to bring credibility back to their name. Though every culture may not see this the same way and neighbors may not provide free labor, I think of my dad who always hired a teenager or two from the community to work on the farm with him. Teenagers are cheap labor and working (especially when we work alongside them) provides great life-lessons--even when just raking leaves, fixing small household issues, or doing a small project.

Doing something for someone else benefits everyone. When Walt couldn't think of anything for Tao to do, he sent him across the street to fix the neighbor's eye-sore house. It was a perfect fit...Tao had to do free labor...neighbor's homes were in disrepair--maybe because of lack of time, lack of money, or lack of knowledge of how to repair...and Walt had time, tools, and knowledge of repairing. Walt was being self-serving because he didn't like looking at the eye-sore, but in the process, he created "community" because other neighbors came to him asking putting in their suggestions for what else Tao could do. The effort became a win-win for everyone.

Sometimes evil is just evil. I kept thinking Walt's efforts with Tao would somehow win over the gang members. I wanted them to change. I hoped for the happy ending. But sometimes that behavior has to be brought out and purged from the community...even if they are relatives and close friends.

Relationships have more impact than retaliation. Purging from the community is hard. Fear is part of it; wanting to believe they can change is another part. Tight-lipped is not limited to the Hmong. But the deep sense of love and concern won over. I know the police don't always come. And even when you can point out who did something, it doesn't always result in arrests. However, I believe that a deep sense of caring and concern for each other, stimulated by a passion for justice, can change that.

I know there are other lessons that I may be missing. I'd love to hear yours.
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