The Comfort of Ozymandias

During the filming of the Tarantino film “The Hateful Eight” (not a film I’d recommend, incidentally) one of the props was a genuine 145-year old Martin guitar. There were also several duplicates on the set, and the plan was that they would shoot up to a point where the character played by Kurt Russell was about to smash the guitar, stop, and switch in one of the fakes so that the actor could complete the action.

Except they forgot to tell Kurt Russell about that.

So the actor just played right through, smashing the priceless guitar into smithereens. His co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh’s astonished, horrified reaction couldn’t have been more real, because she knew what had just happened.

When a friend and I were talking about this incident, I had a weird thought: What if that’s ok? What if it’s actually a good thing?

I mean, the world has a lot of stuff in it. I mean, a lot. Yes, this was a priceless, unique guitar…and there are literally thousands of other priceless, unique guitars along with quite a few pricey, very special guitars and certainly millions of very affordable, pretty good guitars. I have one hanging on my wall, in fact.

The Life of an Object

That particular guitar had brought joy to many people – probably first while being played, then as a key part of a museum display, and finally as an anecdote added to film history that will be re-told over and over.

That’s not too bad for an inanimate object. And I’m not saying that we should just go around smashing instruments. But I am saying that perhaps Mari Kondo is onto something when she talks about letting things go not with careless disregard but with genuine gratitude for the part it has played in our story:

The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life. – Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair.”

note: the intended relevance of this next section is directly proportional to how similar you are to me. Middle-aged white guy? Yep, I’m definitely talking to you. There are other demographics that have been marginalized to varying degrees for millennia. They still have a lot of well-deserved recognition due them for their work. This is not intended as advice for any of them except as they choose to take it, as I’m not remotely qualified for that.

Now, for the rest of you:

What if we could let go of the need for credit? For recognition? For relevance? What if, instead of worrying about what our “legacy” will be, or how we will be remembered, we could accept – or even embrace – that we won’t be?

” …on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,

Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The poem by Shelley is far more remembered now than the original statue, and both are certainly eclipsed now by the character by the same name in the popular graphic novel and movie Watchmen. And we’re talking about a king, a world-famous poet, and a blockbuster movie and award-winning comic book.

There have been entire nations, entire wars, entire languages that have been forgotten as if they never existed. The idea that somehow we are creating something that will last and be attributed to us…that’s kind of foolish.

The Witness Who Matters

This should not be discouraging. It’s kind of liberating, in fact. You still do have an effect on the world around you; you can see that, and you get to watch that with a kind of Machiavellian altruism. You have no control over who remembers you and how. So rather than try to control the things you can’t, you can enjoy the effects that you have.

You are the witness of your own life, and you are the one who, at the end, gets to have a satisfied smile knowing that you have been a constructive force. Sure, other people may remember you – but that’s a side effect, not an intention.

Here’s my challenge to you: try it out for a week, my privileged peers who are used to receiving the credit whether or not it is due. See if you can be a kind of ninja altruist, making good things happen without anyone knowing it was you.

Side note: you’ll be tempted to surprise people with a reveal. Ha! That was actually me! That kind of ruins the effect, but I understand the desire to tell someone. Feel free to email me your experience ( and I will absolutely congratulate you on your sneaky success.

At the point where you realize you don’t have to fight to be remembered – that you can be your own witness, and appreciate what you do for the effect rather than the credit – I believe there is a large weight of expectation lifted from your shoulders. I think that the actions become easier, because you’re less attached to the results.

We’ll see.

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