In preparation for an upcoming trip to Mumbai, the film “Slumdog Millionaire” finally made it onto my Netflix queue. It tells the story of a young, desperately unprivileged boy struggling to find his way to adulthood with only his labor, his brother and his unanswered love to help him survive his abysmal circumstance. As a matter of course, films designed to morosely pull at our heartstrings stay at the bottom of my list – instead preferring accounts of overcoming and aspiration to those envy and despair. Happily, this Millionaire always found a way to consider the glass half full and the movie deserves its many accolades.
But why did he, and others that this fictional character is intended to represent, emerge from the cesspool that was his life to become a noble hero? When some might blame what they perceive as the diminished adherence to traditional family and religious organizations for the slide and others might argue that a fat welfare state incentivizes dependence rather than responsibility, Jamal, the protagonist, clung to his belief that his life, his little insignificant life, could be filled with happiness – and to quote a phrase, the pursuit of happiness filled him with hope.
America was founded upon a promise that, for those inclined, one had a right to pursue happiness. All of the machinations of today’s envious “rights” culture aside, there was a time in our history of aspiration. Over these many years, I’ve been fortunate to visit some of the world’s wealthiest and poorest places. Sure, there are scores of important factors that contribute to one’s position on the continuum; but aspiring to be more, not envying those who may be, is a common antidote to misery. Jamal inspires us to aspire to a better future and not to seethe in envy over a bitter past.