Michael Oher and The Blind Side

michael oher and tuohysAll of us, as growing children, develop strategies for negotiating the world in which we are growing. We are not consciously aware that we are developing specific strategies. We just do it. Our primary goal is survival and our secondary goal is getting our needs met. In the movie, “The Blind Side,” we see young Michael Oher’s strategies in action, strategies which have led to the survival of not only his body but his soul in a world which had destroyed so many. We also see in action the strategies he had  chosen to get his needs met. It reminds me of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” in which physical survival and security are the two most basic. Against very challenging odds Michael has succeeded.

It seems to me that a core component of his success was that he chose early on to take his own counsel, to be his own man, rather than feeling he must fit in and please others. He reserved the right to make up his own mind about the various examples of life paraded before him, rejecting as unworthy many of the strategies others embraced. This core wisdom preserved his life. The greatest part of his success was who he already was before he had the opportunity offered by the Tuohys.

Another key factor in his success was the way he responded to the opportunity that came his way. It’s easy to see a fortunate turn of events as being the reason a person achieves success. But, as Dave Ramsey has pointed out, if you want to see the true character of a person give him a big wad of money and see what he does with it. The Tuohys’ intersecting his life was truly a blessing, but many have wasted such an opportunity. I’m certainly not privy to the thought processes that went on in Michael responding to this new family he now encountered. Whatever those thoughts were, they led him to a highly successful response to this unexpected opportunity.

What Michael had accomplished before the Tuohys entered his life is astounding. To have whatever it was inside him that maintained a sanity while totally immersed in an absolutely insane jungle of society’s victims and outcasts is bordering on the miraculous. To have any clear sense of self and to embrace a strategy for living that was so different from those about him was key to surviving where he was until having an opportunity to step on the next rung up when it came along. I am reminded of the line in Rudyard Kipling’s “If” that, “If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs… you’ll be a Man, my son!”

There have always been individuals who thought higher and better than others trapped in the same horrors about them. Each of these successes held on to some plan for survival until finding an avenue to rise above. These stories of survival need to be told to challenge us to believe we can do better, to not despair in spite of the situations in which we find yourselves.

“The Blind Side” is the story of success composed of two overarching human realities: an exceptional young man and an exceptional family. What Michael had accomplished before the Tuohy’s entered his life is astounding. The strength of his inner self pops out at various points in the movie where he gives answers that clearly were not what the questioner anticipated. The only way one can survive virtually alone in the jungle is to fiercely construct the belief system that will be strong enough to not be destroyed by contrary opinions or enticements.

Rarity also occurred in the form of the Tuohys, apparently led by Leigh-Anne. She was notable for being a woman not having herself defined or confined by someone else’s concept of what a wealthy, educated, southern Christian wife, mother, woman should be, do, think, believe and decide. In short she defined “her place” and she honored Michael’s right to define “his place.”

Notably, she has the respect of her husband who seemingly accepts her strong self-direction apparently with grace, admiration and even enjoyment. Frankly, she reminded me of my aunts on both sides of my family. They were strong women, wives and mothers living through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and more. None ever appeared to me to in any way lack self direction and self-determination.I can’t imagine any of them being perceived as weak, needing someone to guide them. I don’t recall any of them ever choosing not to follow a desired course of action because someone said that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. My cousins will fully confirm me on that point. And incidentally there wasn’t a weak man among any of their husbands, my uncles. Ditto my grandmothers and grandfathers.

The whole Tuohy family was fully engulfed in the consequences of Leigh-Anne’s “force of nature” decisions. And fortunately each member of the family stood up to be counted in support of the decisions. A preteen son and a teenage daughter each could have related to their own peers in ways that followed the parental examples or could have related in ways oppositional. Fortunately they chose the former. They each also had to build their own relationships with Michael as their new brother.

Some time after seeing the movie I purchased Michael Oher’s book, “I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to the Blind Side, and Beyond.” It was an informative read and I would strongly recommend it to you. The movie came out just as Michael was beginning his professional football career, and has certainly been impactful, bringing him much media attention along with the unwelcome aspects of receiving such attention. Any successful movie that essentially tells the story of a living individual impacts and alters that person’s life, in both welcome and unwelcome ways. So it has been for Michael and for the Tuohys. Just as it took strength of character and wisdom for all these people to live the changes they did, so too it will take strength of character and wisdom to maximize the future benefits for all who are willing to be benefited by these events while minimizing the downside.. A two-hour movie must of necessity leave out much of what a book can cover. Also, since those who write and produce movies seem to believe that real-life can’t be nearly as exciting as fiction,some artistic liberty with the facts is usually taken.

Societies have always had severe problems that need to be addressed, problems such as crime, poverty, tyranny and racism. We all need to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. There are personal things we need to do on the micro level, person-to-person, right now. There are also structural things we need to be doing on the macro level that take longer and usually involve much more than individual decision. It’s not which of these, the personal or the societal, shall we do. We should do both.

It’s always easier to do things right on a personal level when things are right on the societal level. It’s just that things will never be made right on the societal level unless first many of us make things right on the personal level.

If you have fallen off a cruiseship and a fellow passenger sees your plight, do you want him to begin to rail against the cruise line for not having a safer ship, or do you want him to immediately throw you a life preserver? And if indeed the cruise line was negligent in passenger safety, would you once you have survived want him to join you in bringing the problems to light or to merely conclude his job was complete, having personally helped you alone?

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