The Wisdom of Shia LaBeouf

I know who Shia LaBeouf is, but admit that I don’t follow his career. (I’ve seen a couple of his movies.) I’m also aware from reading the news that this young actor has had some…”difficulties” recently. There was a firing from a job on Broadway, an arrest and rumors of bizarre behavior, which resulted in excessive coverage by the “entertain-bloid” media. (I made up that word.)

In recent weeks, he’s been on several talk shows, promoting his latest movie but also seeking to repair some of the damage caused by his actions/activities. Having been in the PR industry for 25+ years, I imagine he hired a firm to help him navigate this “Restoration Tour,” and they probably gave him key talking points and perhaps coached him on the best way to respond.

I saw this interview he did with Ellen DeGeneres, and he struck me as personable, effusive, sincere and self-aware.  And in the course of talking about his…difficulties, he said two things which struck me as very wise and impacted me personally.

First, when talking about those incidents, he admits he was going through “an existential crisis.” Again, this could have been written by his publicist or crisis manager, I don’t know. (And neither do you!) But I think it’s a healthy way to describe what happened. All of us have these kind of experiences in our lives (or we SHOULD), but for us, they aren’t the fodder of dirt-hungry tabloids and a public that seems obsessed with such celebrity meltdowns. I see it as healthy and natural to go through those periods when we honestly ask the difficult self-actualizing, “existential” questions of identity (Who am I?) and purpose (Why am I here?).

I know that for most LGBT people, coming out can be an “existential crisis.” Same for parents and family of LGBT children. For Christians, moving away from traditional, Fundamental/Evangelical theology qualifies as well. It may not involve public drunkenness, but it is painful and traumatic.

During this “existential crisis,” Shia apparently got lots of online criticism. So, he decided to rent a facility and invited people to come and confront him. He said it was his way to apologize for his actions. Anyone could show up and say whatever they wanted to him…in person, face to face. He even provided implements like whips and pliers they could use if they wanted to physically harm him. As he explained, “There was a lot of negativity on line, so let’s see what this negativity is about. Let’s invite it in.”

And the results, according to Shia, were surprising. Talking to Ellen, he put it this way:  “I was sitting in there, broken. I was really, truly apologetic. I thought for sure that people would come in and be super mean because that’s what I had been reading [online] but it wasn’t that way at all…Once they got in there, everything changed. They stopped looking at me as an object and started looking at me as a human. They were very loving. It was very human.” (Not a verbatim transcript)

I don’t know if he’s telling the truth about his regrets, his remorse or the genuineness of his apology; after all, he’s an actor who pretends to battle machines that turn into warrior robots. But in his description of the event, I saw the second insight of wisdom: the way we treat people in person can be vastly different than how we respond to them online.

There’s something about online conversation that emboldens people, and can also bring out a malicious malice. It’s obvious we don’t them as REAL…as humans with actual feelings; they are invisible objects for our ire and wrath. And in our responses, we also become less than human as we say vile things that we probably would not say if the encounter happened face to face

Recently, my daughter and son-in-law were featured on a reality TV show about unusual first-time home-buying experiences. As the program was airing, people were making comments online, and some of the statements were so outrageous…and nasty. Without knowing the couple they saw on TV, struggling to buy a house, the online commentators made harsh value judgments about them based on such ridiculous criteria as what they named their daughter, my granddaughter.

Personal Note: I also had my own recent experience that showed how those who make online comments can be so unkind, even those who claim to be “christian.” I wrote about it HERE.

The Internet is a wonderful platform for communication, and an excellent tool for interaction, engagement, education and even for establishing connections. (Hey, I “accidentally” met my partner online! Read our story.) I know I've made some wonderful friends online, but I have also witnessed the worst expressions of human behavior. It seems we hide behind the screen of anonymity and become a horrible person that probably doesn’t reflect who we truly are…in real life.

So, I came away with two insights of wisdom...from Shia LaBoef:

1. The value of periodic, intense personal re-evaluation. It’s good and it’s healthy to go through those times when we are forced to re-examine who we are and what we doing.

2. The need for human-ness when dealing with others, even online. When what we are saying online is about someone or to someone (even celebrities), it might be helpful (and human) to ask ourselves: would I say this…would I say it this way…if I were talking to the person face to face?

P.S. If you can’t connect the reality of horrible online statements with the real people they address, I recommend you check out Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets on YouTube, where celebrities read actual Tweets about themselves. Yes, it’s funny to see it this way, but it also gives us real, uncensored and personalized examples of how terrible people can be to someone they do not know.