I bought a new pair of shoes a couple weeks ago. They’ve been a tremendous help to my sanity. They’re just a pair of plain Converse sneakers to most people, but to me and a few of you, there is a special significance to this brand of shoes. Because Converse sneakers, like a bow tie, or even a fez, are cool. I’m referring of course to the BBC’s Doctor Who. It is one of the few television shows to which I’ll admit I’m a fan. Because, like a few great works of drama, it is entertaining (funny at times, scary at others, and often simultaneously) and is a constant reminder of what is important. The most important things, I’ve often said, are also the things we tend to forget the most easily.
So for my friends in the U.K. and Canada where the show is easily available, here are ten reminders of important life lessons from Doctor Who:
1. Curiosity counts. I was recently asked what is the most important quality in life and, to my surprise, the word that came out of my mouth was “curiosity.” Helen Keller once said “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” If this is true – and I suspect it is – fostering a deep commitment towards curiosity is the distinction between these choices. I don’t think you could survive a lifespan over 900 years without it. Even while being faced with genuine danger, The Doctor is always the embodiment of curiosity. More often than not, it is his curiosity that helps him solve the mystery behind the danger.
“There’s something out of place – let’s go and poke it with a stick.” – The Doctor (Amy’s Choice episode)
2. Being weird is cool. Running shoes and a suit, bow ties, or even a fez – none of these things in themselves cool. But being yourself, in all your quirkiness, is. Human societies are good at teaching individuals to mind their place, to keep in line and to conform. We teach our children too often to fit in with society’s expectations. Yet I cannot think of a single person who I admire, or who has accomplished anything extraordinary, who was not weird in some major way.
CRAIG: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit weird?
DOCTOR: They never really stop. (The Lodger episode)
3. Life is complicated. Have you ever noticed how quickly most people “understand” something without really understanding it? Whether its your feelings about something, or quantum physics, most humans will listen to only a sentence or two before they begin nodding their heads like they get the whole picture when they have only the beginnings of an idea.
RORY: How we can we be outside the universe? The universe is everything.
DOCTOR: Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside… Well, it’s nothing like that… Yeah. No. But if it helps, yes. (The Doctor’s Wife episode)
4. People are scary. I don’t know about you, but people scare me. That is plural, as in groups of people. I can relate to anyone one on one, but en masse… that’s when things get scary. In Doctor Who, on one side you have masses of aliens, like the Daleks or Cybermen, trying to change the universe as they have decided it should be. On the other side, you have masses of panicked humans either trampling over each other to get way, looking on with apathy, or just submitting without a struggle.
5. People are amazing. Individually, that is. One at a time. Or in small groups. Really small groups that is. It’s not only the Doctor and the Doctor’s companions who amaze us. Consider Mickey’s transformation from a scared little boy to a man of action, dedication and determination. In fact, any individual the Doctor is able to coax from the crowd usually amazes us.
6. Life is amazing. This goes hand in hand with the curiosity. Miracles surround us if we choose to see them, and the more we try to understand the world around us, the more miraculous it becomes.
Time isn’t a straight line. It’s all… bumpy-wumpy. There’s loads of boring stuff. Like Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. But now and then there are Saturdays. Big temporal tipping points when anything’s impossible. ~ The Doctor (The Impossible Astronaut episode)
7. Home is where your feet are. For someone who is rather a gypsy and does not understand homesickness, this is a reassuring reminder. While Thomas Wolfe maintained “You Can’t Go Home Again,” the Doctor has no home to go back to. And this is mostly okay. We should feel at home wherever we are, I think.
8. Don’t take anything for granted. Stone angel statues that come alive when you close your eyes, an impossible astronaut, walking mannequins… well this list could just go on and on. In Doctor Who it is often the smallest detail that proves to be the most important at the end of an episode. A wink, a whisper, a random comment… again this list cold just go on and on.
9. Embrace new experiences. I made fish sticks and custard for my children a few weeks ago. It was actually pretty good!
Don’t look away. And don’t Blink. ~ The Doctor (this quote being completely out of context, certainly)
10. You can always recreate yourself. I don’t think you need two hearts and a TARDIS to regenerate yourself. With every new experience the human brain rewires itself, creates and uncreates itself on a biological level. This is usually a slow, subtle process, but sometimes, with the snap of one’s fingers, the change can be dramatic and even miraculous. Although in my case, new teeth would be kind of nice.
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