It should not have surprised me, but Natalie Portman has something in common with both Kylo Ren and Rey in The Last Jedi. Like them she confidently spoke sentences, every word of which were wrong. She did this in her speech at this year’s Women’s March in Washington D.C.
Here is what she said-
“So I’d like to propose one way to continue moving this revolution forward. Let’s declare loud and clear that this is what I want. This is what I need. This is what I desire. This is how you can help me achieve pleasure. To people of all genders here today, let’s find a space where we mutually, consensually, look out for each other’s pleasure, and allow the vast, limitless range of desire to be expressed. Let’s make a revolution of desire.”
Ms. Portman passionately spoke of pleasure and desire being of profound importance, goals worthy of revolution. She spoke of society having an obligation to help her achieve pleasure, to protect and defend every person’s right to pursue pleasure. To Ms. Portman, there is a limitless range of desire, all of it worthy of pursuit, all of it worthy of expression.
Ms. Portman was passionate, but just about every word she spoke was wrong.
Desire is perhaps the least trustworthy of human emotions. The reality is that it is possible for each of us to feel something strongly, believe something deeply, and desire something intensely and be completely wrong. Adulterers, drug addicts, and the mentally ill can all testify to the truth that there are desires that should not be fulfilled. Some desires are destructive and harmful.
When my kids were entering adolescence I sat them down and intentionally warned them against trusting their desires. I told them that some desires are good and some are bad, and that the goodness and badness of desires cannot be distinguished by the intensity of feelings. Because of this, if they wanted to be good people there would be times when they would have to say, “No” to their desires.
Self-denial has been a key factor in the success I have experienced in my life, both personally and professionally. In medical school there was very little pleasure to be found studying biochemistry and neuroanatomy. During my Family Practice training I had no desire to work 36 hour shifts or to spend every fourth night away from my family. In my current practice I don’t particularly enjoy staying late in the office returning phone calls or reviewing lab tests. Yet all of these undesirable tasks were and are necessary if I want to be a good physician. I can’t always do what I feel like doing.
I realized the futility of pursuing pleasure at an early age. As a young man I understood that marriage was about sacrifice and that being a good husband was about setting aside my desires and putting my wife’s needs ahead of my own. This type of sacrifice started before ever I met my wife. I wanted my future wife to be my one and only, to honor her emotionally and physically, which meant holding sexual desires in check. I knew there were many people who were experiencing more “pleasure” than I was, but I had a greater goal in mind. I wanted to be a great husband someday.
When our children came along there were other desires I needed to set aside. I always enjoyed sports and exercise but soon learned that there were not enough hours in a week to allow me to play sports and be available as a dad. Some things that brought me pleasure needed to be set aside in order for me to be a good father.
Some might read these words and say, “You weren’t giving up on pleasure, you have had a very happy life” Exactly! Lasting joy comes not from pursuing personal pleasure and fulfillment, but in serving and loving others. The greatest joy of all comes from doing what is right, not from doing what we want. Pleasure lasts for a moment, joy endures.
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