It was the tag line from Jaws, The Revenge, famously one of the worst films ever made.
The shark is back and follows the Brody family from Amity Island to the Bahamas, strategically targeting them to extract its revenge.
The images and score of the original Jaws still haunt many of us every time we step into the ocean, such was the power of that film.
But Jaws 4… not so much…
The idea that a shark can be motivated not by hunger or survival but by revenge just didn’t hold water. It was ‘personal’ for the fish and ludicrous for the film franchise.
But in the world of humans, the ‘This time it’s personal’ motif is of course the running theme. It’s TOTALLY believable. Because most of the time, it is personal.
It’s not just that all films involving humans involve the playing out of that theme, it’s that all our every day life dramas in homes, offices, playgrounds, shops, restaurants do too.
We can’t help it. While the personal looks real, and looks to be what we are, then it will be the driver of behaviour. It has to be.
There’s just one problem with the personal though.
It’s not real.
But it really really looks like it is.
‘Personal’ comes from the idea, of course, that we are an individual person, separate from other people and the world around us. It is founded on the basis that what we think we are is what we are and what we think other people are is what they are.
‘Personal’ therefore is based on what is believed. It is my identity, an identity that can only exist because it is defined and distinct from ‘how other people are’.
This identity or the ‘personal’ can extend outwards in all directions, reaching as far as whatever is claimed to represent me – my body, my clothes, my work, my words, my family, my house, my garden, my town, my football team, my religion, my culture, my country…
When any aspect of this identity is challenged, it can look like life and death – because we believe that is what we are.
And so of course it is ‘personal’ and that can be the most powerful of motivations. It can easily sustain the two hour arc of a Hollywood blockbuster and it can easily sustain the arc of our entire lives.
The drive for revenge, to be right, to get back what we believe is ours, to annihilate, to be superior, to claim, to isolate, to reduce, to equalise, to constrain, to humiliate, to silence… This is war waged in playgrounds, kitchens, offices, terraces and international waters.
And this doesn’t mean that no action should ever be taken. Of course people must be protected from harm.
It’s just that the idea that it is ‘personal’ is a complete red herring (fish reference intentional) that confuses everything. Here’s why:
1. The ‘personal’ is transient.
What is more important than anything one moment can be completely forgotten or irrelevant the next. The ‘personal’ is only ever a snapshot in time. The structure of it can change beyond recognition with new information, insight or understanding. Everything we think about ourselves, other people, circumstances and events is belief-based and beliefs are not truth. They are just temporary agreements.
2. The ‘personal’ blinds, blinkers and distorts
The focus on me and mine is a blindness to everything else. This focus is a distortion of reality. Everything is perceived through the lens of ‘what does this mean about me?’ and in that moment instead of responding to actual reality we are living through the defences and protection of our own limited idea of what we are.
3. The ‘personal’ is unfulfillable
The true motivation of the ‘personal’ is to return to peace and happiness. Trying to do this through making the self secure means that peace and happiness can never be found or maintained. The actions that the personal agenda gives rise to could never do the job they are supposed to do. Hence the saying ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. If you insult me I can try to feel better by insulting you but that does nothing to take away the wound to my self identity of the original insult. The more I try to feel better by putting you down, the more I move away from the truth of what I am and the worse I feel.
The ‘personal’ is an entirely understandable driver given our belief that we are our identity. It is a driver that contains in it all the tension, compulsion, story and anguish of our lives.
Because of this, the ‘personal’ makes for Oscar-destined films and prize-winning novels.
But the ‘personal’ is not true. It is not a reality. It is not constant. It is not logical. It is not even sane.
Because of this, it makes for a very complicated, exhausting, high-vigilance, conflict-filled life for us.
And it also makes, of course, for A Very Implausible Shark…