In the glorious movie Galaxy Quest, there’s a moment where a rock monster is chasing Tim Allen, playing an actor pretending to be the captain. In response, over the communicator, Alan Rickman’s Dr. Lazerus posits acerbically, “you’re just going to have to figure out what it wants. What is its motivation?”
To which Taggart yells, “It’s a rock monster, it doesn’t have motivation!”
Sighs Dr. Lazarus, “See that’s your problem, Jason, you were never serious about the craft.”
Right there is why I love Galaxy Quest (it just gets so many things, most notably why Star Trek was wonderful). But it’s also a question we can stand to ask ourselves every day. What is your motivation? You aren’t a rock monster (probably), and so everything you do is based on some kind of desire.
But what desire is pushing you? …That one? Are you sure?
Politicians and marketers know it’s not so simple. People have layers of desires, some of which are buried pretty deep. Know how to take advantage of those desires and you’ve got yourself into power and money. And possibly out of the path of a rock monster.
It’s a subtle art in some ways, but it seems to me in so many cases it comes down to insecurity… although insecurity isn’t exactly the word for it. Insecurity feels like you are just wobbling a bit on your perch on Earth. What motivates many of us is sheer terror at our powerlessness.
That terror is understandable, perhaps, since we are such vulnerable little creatures in a universe we do not comprehend. But when that terror leads us to circle the wagons and protect only our own, that’s a problem. When we say we are upholding traditional “values” of some kind, but they are actually driven by our terror of losing power, that’s dangerous.
That’s true on a national level, as recently events have so terrifyingly shown. But it’s also true on a personal level. I don’t ask myself often enough, why do I care so much about winning this argument? About being accepted by these people? About being known for being the best?
Whatever I think the answer might be, it’s actually probably insecurity/sheer terror at my powerlessness – as is so often the case. We check off life’s boxes instead of checking them out, robbing ourselves of discovery. We push other people down to lift ourselves up. Our natural compass arrows get distracted by the magnetic pull of destinations that promise security, comfort, power.
After all, to answer Alan Rickman, we could guess that the rock monster was probably motivated by a seeing-a-spider type terror at Tim Allen. Maybe if the monster recognized that he would be a little less monstery about the situation. Maybe he would know they were all – Tim Allen, scary alien minors, and rock monster – on the same rock planet (or not.)
So for ourselves, for our friends and family, for our nation and world: let’s all be like Alan Rickman and get serious about the craft – the craft of intimately knowing not only others’ motivations but our own.