Even if he didn’t have a family, exploring the first planet was a risk.
Because the planet was close to a black hole, visiting it exposed Cooper to time dilation: for every hour he spent on the planet, seven years would pass on Earth. Things went badly, and by the time Cooper returned to the ship hours later, he had lost 23 years. The first thing he did was watching the video messages from his family.
Cooper broke down in tears as his son, Tom (who was 15 when Cooper left Earth, now an adult) introduced his newly-born son. In the next message — sent years later — Tom told Cooper that the boy died; Cooper had missed all moments of his grandson’s life. What’s more painful is that Tom had also given up waiting for Cooper. This was the last message he will ever transmit.
The devastated Cooper thought that’s all the messages he had, until his daughter, Murph, came up on the screen.
Murph was 10 when Cooper left. She didn’t want him to go. She couldn’t accept why her father would leave her. So this was the first time Murph talked to Cooper. She was still in pain, and what she said completely crushed Cooper:
“… today is my birthday. And it’s a special one because you told me… you once told me that when you come back, we might be the same age. And today I’m the age you were when you left… So it’d be a really good time for you to come back.”
How we lose our time with our family
At their best, works of art remind us of deeper truths about life. Here, Nolan helps us remember how invisibly precious the time with our family is. Granted, most of us are not likely to wind up around a collapsed star. That’s not how we are going to lose our time. Instead, our “black holes” may come in different forms:
- Excessive ambitions
Being ambitious in a career is an admirable quality. But ambitions untampered by wisdoms are mirages that lead to emptiness. In spending our time chasing after that business contract, that job promotion, or that career goal, we may lose sight of what truly matters.
- Losing ourselves in technology
Our great-grandparents probably fantasized that, as technology progresses, we will have more time for our families while robots do our works. Technologies do help us a lot, but somehow, many of us still feel that we don’t have enough time for our loved ones. We seem to lose ourselves in our own creations.
- Obsession with efficiency
- At home, screaming at our family members may bring us what we want quicker — it’s efficient. We forget about the subtle, long-term damages that it causes to the relationship.
- At work, as leaders, sometimes the amount of work we give our team almost dehumanizes them. They are treated like worker drones with certain productivity and efficiency settings, not human beings that need time and energy for their families.
How to protect our time with our family
Here are a few ideas that may help us from being pulled into those gravitational wells:
- Influence your organization to value family
- Help others to understand that valuing family is not just an emotional sentiment; we are not doing it just to feel good. Family is the very foundation of a healthy society – a realization recognized by intellectuals for millennia (1). A society that ignores family will fall apart politically.
- Do what you can to embed the importance of family in the culture or your organizations. Remind yourself that your team members are not just productivity units, they are someone’s father, mother, son or daughter.
- Have a closer look at your relationship with technology
- Take command of your connection-disconnection management with the world. Establish your offline periods where you make yourself unreachable. “Go dark” when it’s time for you to be with those you love.
- Differentiate the technologies which:
- make your work easier
- help finish your work faster, so you can spend more time with family.
- make it easier for you to work
- seem to help you work faster, but at the same time compel you to do more work, even when you are spending time with family.
- make your work easier
- Treasure every moment with your family
“Enjoy your time with your children as much as you can, because they grow up too fast.”
It’s something that a friend of mine, Jorge kept saying when I was working with him. It’s not that work is not interesting to him. Far from it. He once told me unequivocally that doing his PhD is one of the most enjoyable things he has ever done. (Most of you who are doing a PhD would understand why “enjoyable” wouldn’t be the first adjective that comes to mind. So it’s a pretty safe bet that Jorge loves his career.)
People like him teach me that you can be passionate about your career, and at the same time, have enough wisdom to recognize what life’s real treasures are: our family, and the finiteness of our time with them.
(1) For example, Confucius (d. 479 BCE) emphasizes Xiao, or filial piety, in his ethical system. A good society, according to this sage, places great importance on honouring family members, including those who are no longer alive. Al-Farabi (d. 950) views the family as an integrated aspect in one’s political life. In Talkhis nawamis Aflatan, he asserts, “What we say about all cities, is also true of the single household, and of each person”. Generally, if we can’t even extend our kindness and sense of duty to our family, why would we sincerely do the same to our country, which consists of strangers whose race, religion, or political views may differ from our own?