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Mine: Finding Nemo and the Impossibility of Selflessness?

6:00:00 AMBenjamin Klare

I have a confession to make … I like kids TV shows and movies more than I like any other genre of entertainment. I don’t really know why that is, but I do know that weeks before Disney releases its newest animated film, you can find me excitedly counting down the days until it’s public debut. Heck, when “Finding Dory” came out, I invited all of my friends to go with me so that I didn’t have to worry about receiving questioning glances from the parents of the 6 year old fellow movie goers.

Though I can’t quite say why I like kids shows so much, I can say there is one aspect about them that intrigues me endlessly: their ability to form. Whether animators or children's entertainment creators admit to it or not, and regardless of whether or not they intend it, any and every show that a child watches teaches and forms that child. Just as all things in life, in one sense or another, are forming and shaping us adults, so too and even more so are they informing and inculcating our children (or potential future children in my case). This implicit and occasionally explicit aspect of kids shows allures me. To watch a show and think, “What is this saying to the next generation of the world? What does this teach them and what are they learning from this?”, is quite a curios thought to me. In my opinion, it reveals that there is much more to children’s shows than just simple pictures and loud noises. Yet perhaps this is just all jargon to convince you that I have some 
rational reason to excuse myself for liking shows tailored 
to audiences 15 years younger than me.

Regardless, watching “Finding Dory” the other day (which is perhaps the cutest movie I have ever seen, yet no where near as quality of a film as “Finding Nemo”), I left the theatre with a newly found unanswered question concerning the first movie (“Finding Nemo” that is): Why did Marlin leave to find Nemo?

The answer to this question may seem obvious to everyone else, namely that he left to find his son, but it is not so easily answerable to me. See, I think the answer to this question has potentially massive ramifications for our lives. Why did Marlin leave to go and find Nemo? Surely because it is a thing every loving father would do. But did Marlin swim halfway across the ocean selflessly or selfishly? Did he go to find Nemo solely for Nemo’s sake, because no kid should grow up alone, afraid, and without a father? Or, solely for his own sake, because he could not bear to be alone or to lose another member of his family?

Many of you are probably questioning why this matters in the slightest. “It’s just the plot of children’s movie,” you might gawk at me. Yet, it brings up a question I have often pondered from high school: can anyone truly be selfless? A high school choir teacher of mine, Mr. Thomsen, once asked me, “Is it possible for anyone to perform a selfless action? For, even when we do something completely selfless, there still remains the personal satisfaction of doing a good thing”. Can you see now why this question has plagued my mind and racked my intellect for years? 
So I remain in the midst of questioning: 
are we all just selfish beings by nature and disposition, 
or can we actually be selfless?

  Image 5  

Dietrich von Hildebrand would strongly support man’s ability to be selfless as, he writes in The Dietrich von Hildebrand LifeGuide, “The capacity to transcend himself is one of man’s deepest characteristics” (15). For Hildebrand, “a deep characteristic of man [is] to desire to be confronted with something beyond self-centeredness, which obligates us and affords us the possibility of transcending the limits of our subjective inclinations” (12). In other words, man yearns to be selfless, and the ability to act selflessly is one of man’s core abilities. In the personalism of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the shocking revelation is that, as personal as his philosophy is, he essentially says that “it isn’t about you, it’s about everyone else”. For Hildebrand, true happiness, and thus the goal of life, is only attainable by means of selflessness. 

The ramifications of this is something every kid’s show ought to teach: life isn’t about you. In fact, life is about everyone else, except you. Why? Because man is meant to transcend himself in the blissful encounter of another person or object of intrinsic value. The paradox though that kid’s TV show’s might not be able to detail is that: the more life is about everyone else, the more life is about you and me then too. This is because, in the context of the world, humans are destined to find happiness and purpose in other persons (divine or human). Hence, the less life is about me and the more it is about everyone else, the more so then it is also about me. Welcome to the paradox we call life! It’s crazy, but it’s true!

So then, did Marlin leave selflessly or selfishly? Most likely the answer is both. Man will always, in a sense, be selfish because man is man and by that he is singular and a self. Thus, any action performed is “selfish”, in a loose sense, because it involves the self. Yet, man is destined to be selfless. Man is meant to transcend himself almost entirely in the blissful encounter of another. Thus, though Marlin “selfishly” went after Nemo in order that he could find his son. He was, at the same time, utterly selfless. Throwing his life to the potential terrors of the ocean, not in fear of losing his own life or livelihood, but in fear that Nemo might lose his. This then is why love is so strong a bond, because each person is of inestimable importance to the other and so their mutual selflessness allows each of them to transcend themselves in the delightful encounter of the other. Thus, though every personal action involves the self and is therefore self-ish, man is actually meant and dare I say destined to become self-less. Meaning that the “self” in man ought to become tantamount to nothing while the “self” in another ought to be the transcendent goal of each man.

At the end of the day then, while children’s TV shows might not be your preferred genre, and perhaps they shouldn't be, I invite you to take a second look at your beloved childhood shows. What more do they still have to teach us and our children? But, if children’s shows should never become your preferred afternoon entertainment, at the very least I have admitted that they are mine.

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