I know that not everyone tunes in for the Academy Awards, but we try to in our family. I missed parts of the evening this year but I caught the round up the next day. Most of it felt familiar and rather expected.
But one speech grabbed me. Hard.
Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech for Best Actor took my breath away for so many reasons.
I so admire people that can be caught off guard, as the winners of the night typically are, and are able to deliver a coherent message in a very short amount of time. I believe it truly is a gift to be able to stand up and say something meaningful and resonant with little to no preparation. It’s amazing to witness.
If you missed it or would like to check it out again, here is his full speech: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/transcript-joaquin-phoenixs-speech-at-2020-oscars-1278278
A few words that jumped out at me:
“I think that we've become very disconnected from the natural world, and many of us, what we're guilty of is an egocentric world view — the belief that we're the center of the universe. We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources…
And I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something, to give something up, but human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious. And I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”
Now, I have been, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I've been selfish. I've been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I'm grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that's when we're at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.”
His whole thought process stunned me as I watched. Humility at the beginning, deep reflection throughout and personal responsibility, and quoting some lyrics jotted by his late brother at the very end. Wow! How is someone able, at such a bright light moment, to articulate something so well and so eloquently?
The cynics may say, “Well, he’s an actor and he’s acting.” But I don’t feel that. I feel like he’s someone that, by his own choices and for better or worse, has spent most of his life in a huge spotlight. The critics have been so cruel to him at times too, to a level that most of us non-celebrities couldn't endure.
Which leads me back to perhaps the most important thought from all of this--we can never know how someone else is experiencing his or her life. What looks to us like prosperity, importance, ease, power, to name just a few lauded qualities, could feel quite different to the person having that experience.
Moreover, what if we routinely engaged people with that thought in mind? Intentionally dropping our assumptions as we interact with others? What would you hear differently? How could that help someone be very seen, and very witnessed? How could that tiny act help that person in ways we’ll never know?
To his point, “what we're guilty of is an egocentric world view — the belief that we're the center of the universe.”
It’s human nature, this egocentrism, but we definitely can do better. We have the ability to be intentional on all fronts and to engage this world--all of it—with the compassion that is so necessary.
Please join me in this human experiment, beginning today, on a day saturated with symbols of love. Let’s see what we can make better. Together.
personal development and Equus coach, former Penn State journalism instructor and professional writer.