Even if Cooper didn’t have a family, exploring the first planet was a risk; it was too 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 earth years.
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. That was the last message he ever transmitted.
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 that her father would leave her. So, this was the first time Murph talked to Cooper.
She was still in pain, and what she said utterly 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 profound truths about life. Here, Nolan helps us remember how invisibly precious the time with our family is. True, 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:
Being ambitious in a career is an admirable quality. But ambitions untampered by wisdom 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-great-grandparents probably fantasised that, as technology progresses, we will have more time for our families while robots do our works. They probably never expect that technology would become so powerful that it also distracts us from our loved ones, that many of us would lose ourselves in our creations.
Obsession with efficiency
At home, yelling at our family seems to bring us what we want more efficiently. But we often forget about the subtle, long-term damages that it causes to the relationship. At work, sometimes the amount of work we give our team almost dehumanises them. They are treated like worker drones with specific productivity and efficiency settings, not human beings with families.
How to protect our time with our family
Here are a few ideas that may help us from being pulled into those gravity wells:
Influence your organisation 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. Families are the very foundation of a healthy society – a realisation recognised 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 organisations. 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
Retake the command of your online connection management. 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
- They help finish your work faster, so you can spend more time with family.
- make it easier for you to work
- They 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.
Treasure every moment with your family
When I was a student, a friend of mine, Jorge used to say this: ‘Enjoy your time with your children as much as you can, because they grow up too fast.’
It’s not that work is less 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.
You can be ambitious and passionate about your career, but not at the cost of life’s real treasures: our family and the finiteness of our time with them.
(1) For example, Confucius (d. 479 BCE) emphasises 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 of 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”. 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?