All of us have both positive and negative qualities. As the adage states, “In the best, there exists some evil
; in the worst, some good.” While it is easier to categorize people as “good” or “bad,” we need to understand what brings out the “good” or draws out the “bad” in someone and in our self. When we take action or use our voice we enact discernment. Discernment is not a decision made by compromise or consensus, it is born out of our best judgment, drawn from our ability to express what is Good.
Discernment adds to our formation by:
- Not idealizing
- Not judging
- Being honest
- Directing yourself to what’s Good.
For Tom Hanks, discernment defines his objectives for his career decisions. To convey genuineness in film, just as he strives to do in life, Hanks explained to me that before pursuing a project, he first asks, “What Truth am I telling?” Implicit in the question is Hanks’ deep understanding of discernment. Discernment identifies the truth we have to tell about our self and our life. He used images of a boat in our conversations: “To me the rudder is the decision making process.” Hanks points out that if there is no truth in a film—a choice, a direction, a message, an understanding, an insight, an inspiration for where to turn, “some vision of how to communicate the role of the human condition” — he cannot accept a role among its cast. He feels compelled by a charge to convey principles through his work. The truth offered by his character’s story, therefore, must speak to the Truth of his own life. Acting for Hanks is not about developing a career; rather his work evokes the responsibility of a profession — a calling to have what you do connect with others and your idea of the Good, seen through his character portrayals in Apollo 13, Forest Gump, Philadephia, Cast Away, and so many others.
As he turned back the pages of his career in our conversation, Hanks recalled that this connection came to him very early, even if in muted form.
Even in Bachelor Party, for crying out loud, I actually found some things that were beyond the pale of what was essentially a rock and roll sex comedy…Here was a movie of a man trying to maintain monogamy while everybody else was getting laid. And I’m getting married, for crying out loud!
Discerning the values of his characters underlies the compass for Hanks. He is compelled to deliver Truth: about an authentic life on the screen but also about our authentic nature
. This is no less true for his part in The Road to Perdition
, a film that certainly speaks to a man who felt a lack of parental love growing up:
I play a man who justifies his actions for all the wrong reasons; he becomes a killer, an enforcer, beating up people. And then when he realizes that this is for naught because his wife and his son have been killed by his own people, his rationalization for his actions is gone. He does seek out revenge, pure and simple, and wants to rid the world of the people who do this, but he’s also trying to turn some good out of what has been a terribly wasted life.
Hank’s ability to carry the torch for each of us in our imperfections, to strive for more, is what singles him out as an actor. His is not merely a story of a great artist but one who works honestly to see himself and to move ever forward toward his own improvement.
For Hanks, honesty strips away the pretense cultivated by success, laying bare the real person. It brings measure and sobriety, encouraging forthright exchange and sincere expression of feelings.
It is my impression from visiting with Hanks’ that his concern for living with principles also stems from his multiple religious engagements. His exposure to religion was more varied than the several stepmothers in his life: the Roman Catholic Church, the First Covenant Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Church of the Nazarene, Born Again Christianity, Judaism, the Episcopalian Church, and, currently, the Greek Orthodox Church. While he feels “Truth in the Mystical,” or the experiential aspect of faith, he thinks the dogmatic quality of formal religion often runs contrary to its spiritual message: “There is hypocrisy involved here.” So it is toward “the experience of the Good” that he directs his children. When I asked him to describe the message that Faith teaches, he answered confidently:
We have to inch closer to brotherhood…or else we are missing out on a great opportunity in the only place in which we get to change our lives and the world…The only secret of happiness is honesty, you know. Be honest all the time ¾[and] you might have actually found the secret of happiness. And that is hard to do, hard to do all the time. Also, there is the power of unconditional love. And that is not a magic thing. That is literally saying, no matter what you do, or what you say, I am still going to love you…
Honesty, most likely, is Hanks’ truth with a lower case “t.” His Truth (capital “T”) comes from his living experience of discernment, religious, artistic, and otherwise:
I believe in the Great Mystery that’s going on. There’s going to be a time when it’s going to be explained to us in ways that we can understand it, but right now, I [have] just got to believe that there’s a reason for everything we’re going through…There’s a line in the song Amazing Grace: “Through all life’s dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come. ‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace shall lead me home.” Grace is something that you can accept from a great piece of art; it’s a healing acceptance that says…“You’re going to be okay.”
Hanks feels this; he knows this; he lives this. Its power cannot be contained by any limited sphere of formalism in religion. It’s a Spirit, the Grace available to us in life once we connect to it. The power of Hank’s spiritual perception comes not from the story’s end, with the emotionally imperiled poor boy making it big, but his recognition of its progression. Or, in his own words, it is a knowledge you gain from “feeling responsible for all the things that have gone incredibly well, and for all those things that have gone badly: the struggles, the difficulty…always accepting yourself no matter where you go…and [creating] as best you can, when you can.” Moving away from discernment brings us away from discovery of our true self.
From Hanks we learn how honesty, working through the challenges that we’re dealt, and our openess to spiritual truth leads us to living out our true self.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of True Coming of Age: A Dynamic Process That Leads to Emotional Stability, Spiritual Growth, and Meaningful Relationships. For more information please visitwww.drchirban.com andwww.sexualproblems.com.