It’s amazing how Hollywood binds audiences to the characters in movies. It remains the most stellar and surreal of art forms. Movie directors are able to infuse those characters into our subconscious and we inevitably have such a tryst with them that years on it is impossible to break away. Who could forget Michael in The Godfather and our journey with him as he morphed from naïve young son to god of the mafia? Don’t we all remember our walk with Frodo as he made his way through the middle Kingdoms in the Lord of the Rings? Or Walter Whyte as he moved from victim to victor to villain in Breaking Bad? I would be the first to admit my fragility when it comes to the force of Hollywood’s storytelling.
Consequently, Hollywood has become for me a true source for inspiration in all fields. Neo in The Matrix taught me the power of self-belief, Charlie Simms in Scent of a Woman taught me loyalty, and Michael Glass in Basic Instinct 2 was a perfect physical example of “Let him that stands take heed lest he falls”. What’s not to love about Hollywood? Even scripture is visualisable (and that’s not speaking about the false Noah with Russell Crowe).
One of the finest lessons I have learnt though is the danger of permitting “little” vices. And the most recent example of that is Peter Russo in House of Cards. A fine young Congressman from Philly, Peter has the energy and passion to become the President of the country and yet, he struggles with alcohol and women. At the cusp of his finest moment, he flunks a radio interview as he is inebriated and becomes so broken by the pain he has caused his family that he eventually ends up dead (let me spare you the details). As usual, I am gutted by his death; it seems like I have lost a real friend. How could he not show a bit more discretion the night before a major interview? How could the love of a glass affect his judgment so significantly?
As someone who has known a thing or two about dealing with “little” vices, I can relate to the battle Peter fought and lost so spectacularly. “Little” vices may be permitted by the mediocre soul without much consequence but they are the difference between glory and shame for the one who dreams of greatness. Like little serpents, they do not make their presence known, do not disturb, show up only once in a while and grow in size with every indulgence. From hiding in a corner of the room, they eventually sit behind the door, then they share the bed, then they grow so large until they seize the room. Eventually, they push the subject into the cold and leave that soul weary, alone and wrecked.
There are not many graver errors to be made in a life than to allow these vices have a place in the room. A Hitler-like ruthlessness has to be applied to them. They must be killed at every notice, they must not be allowed to fester, or be granted accommodation. Occasionally, good souls are tempted to think that a small vice may be permitted but that is as safe a ground to stand on as the head of a python. Little vices were Samson’s undoing and Judas’ hell. No soul should suffer them to coexist.
These vices show up in different forms- drugs, alcohol, sex, power, greed, naïveté, sloth, scorn, vulgarity, vengefulness, etc. In fact, if a full life is one that comprises mastery, decency, compassion, worship and graciousness, a vice is would be anything that takes away from your capacity to live such a life. What more? They don’t always start off presenting much of a problem. The casual heart will not take note but the watchful soul will soon begin to identify them. The best identifier of a vice is the feeling of helplessness that comes when it craves expression. It is the worst feeling ever, knowing the good to do and being unable to do it. Ultimately, such a path leads on to regret, depression and ill health.
Thankfully, it isn’t a peculiar fight. Most humans fight one or the other and many win. Make no mistakes about it; it is one which in many cases has to be won daily. But victory is possible and a fight against the vice should begin with the knowledge that it can be defeated. Three simple steps can provide the support needed for an effective fight.
Talk to Someone- A confidant would be great, preferably someone with a bit more experience on life, either by reason of their age or vocation; or simply someone who is important to you. Sharing the challenge is a critical first step to winning. Because of the relationship between you and this person, you are better able to weather the storm and commit.
Take Responsibility- There is nothing more frustrating than an uncommitted soul. Dealing with a vice means standing up daily and ensuring you don’t get beat. It means building an atmosphere that supports your goal; it means devising strategies to nullify the impulses. The creation of the right atmosphere would more often than not simplify the task. How exhausting would it be to try to deal with an alcohol vice by hanging out at the bar every day?
Focus on the goal- As important as strategies are, they are not sufficient enough motivation. The goal has to be the motivation. Imagine having no skeletons in the cupboard, a life free of pesky flies that leave you going nuts; Imagine being in the driver’s seat, living the full life, having none of your free will or power taken away from you; Imagine being in peace with all men, insofar as lies with you of course; imagine having the grace to be able to seize every opportunity, extend kindness to every human being, shine in every situation. If that sounds good to you, then let that be the motivation.
Life’s vices are myriad. They have stolen the dream of many men and women and left them in tatters. No human should have to fall to these. By finding a partner in your fight, being firm and responsible about dealing with them; and focussing on the goal, everyone can get the snakes out. And whatever happens, it is worth remembering that a heartfelt confession to heaven of a stumble is all it takes to get back on the road to victory.
My friend Peter Russo is gone but I am sure the grief will last only as long as it takes to hear Hollywood’s next story.
Osita Egbubine is a believer in the capacity of every human being to lead a fulfilling, purpose-driven life. He is currently pursuing a Finance degree in the UK and tweets via @ositane.