Monday, November 6, 2006

anything is possible

the new york times recently ran an interview with will smith, discussing his new movie, the pursuit of happyness. the movie is based on chris gardner's autobiographical book and tells the story of a particularly challenging time in gardner's life when he and his son found themselves homeless in san francisco even as the single father sought to better their futures by working an internship at a brokerage firm.

the former fresh prince said that he could relate to gardner's struggle and his continual striving:

"I have to be the best I can be. I have to achieve everything I can possibly achieve. I feel like I owe it to every single person I came into contact with, who knows my life, I owe it to them. It’s a call from God, or Allah, or Jehovah. I don’t even necessarily know why.

"The beauty of America is that we’re not realistic. The idea that anything is possible, that idea is being kept alive here. This story is why America worked — as an idea. The idea is that this is the only country in the world where Chris Gardner is possible. The pursuit is what makes America great."

Then Will Smith did something surprising. He recited the Declaration of Independence. The whole first segment, including the "pursuit of happiness," rapid-fire. When he finished, and noted the surprise of an observer, he said: "I believe it." Pause. "I don’t believe we do it well." And he recalled a moment from when he was walking through the Tenderloin with Mr. Gardner.

"We were just standing out there in this place of broken dreams. Of extreme poverty. And it washed over me that the greatest poverty is the poverty of ideas. Chris was equally impoverished as these people, but he never had the poverty of ideas. He was rich with belief. Rich with faith." He smiled, that sunny It’s-Will-Smith-Things-Are-Looking-Up smile. "And I’ve always felt like that."

why would i quote will smith on our public criminology blog? as criminologists, one of our jobs is to try to understand and explain why individuals commit crime, and why others who may be dealing with much more difficult circumstances embrace conformity. the poverty of ideas may be one explanation. i speak more often of the importance of hope, especially for our adolescents. how do we instill in them hope and belief and faith and then follow through by giving them the opportunity for meaningful work and satisfying lives?

anything is possible, right? how do we keep that idea alive for those who most need to believe it?

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