By: Suzanne Rabinovitch  | 

From the TAC President’s Desk: Be a Hero

American screenwriter Steven Pressfield once wrote an article reflecting on his early days on the job and of the most valuable lessons he learned while working under a big-time producer, whom he called “Joan Stark.” Unlike most producers, this one insisted that Pressfield come to work and write the script in her office. He would come into work on the script all morning, and then Stark required that they would review the day’s work so that she could make the necessary corrections. He describes that every day she had problems with the same character: the villain. Stark kept making him rewrite the villain’s scenes, until one day Pressfield asked why. 

“What mistake am I making?” he asked.

“You’re having the villain change,” she told him. “The villain can’t change. Because if the villain changed, he’d be the hero.” 

Pressfield recalled thinking to himself, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Don’t we want the Bad Guy to be interesting? Shouldn’t he evolve like the Hero?” And the answer, simply, is no. The Joker in Batman never changes. Regina George in Mean Girls doesn’t change. Every antagonist you grew up on, every super-villain fighting it out with the Avengers or the Disney princesses doesn’t change. The hero, on the other hand, does change and must change to truly be seen as the hero in the audience’s eyes. This was the realization that Pressfield had early on in his career: the understanding that psychologically, the audience connects to anyone that develops over time. If you want the villain to be hated, to be seen as a villain, he or she cannot change. Whereas if you want to create a hero, they must. 

When I read that article by Pressfield, I realized that Hollywood, perhaps even more than ourselves, understands the power of change over time. The greatest producers in America know that what human beings appreciate and aspire towards more than anything else is positive change. 

As I thought about it, I wondered if that’s what we all want, to be the heroes of our own stories. If so, why don’t we? I would argue that the thing that holds us back from fulfilling this heroic aspiration is not that we don’t want to change or become better people over time, but rather that time itself simply escapes us. 

Whatever we do and wherever we go, it seems that the constant ticking of time is following us, and with very little for us to do about it. Marc Wittman, in his book “Felt Time: The Psychology of How We Perceive Time,” explains that we lose our sense of time when we lose our sense of self. He describes that when we are distracted by or immersed in any given activity, we say that time flies by. This occurs because we become so consumed with what we’re doing that we forget it’s we who are experiencing and living through those moments. We lose ourselves in the experience, and as a result, we no longer perceive time while we experience it.

This coming semester is my last in YU. People always told me my time in college would fly by, and boy should I have believed them. When we begin our college experiences, there is so much we set out to accomplish — not only academically, but personally and internally as well. Yet, as our final semester on campus creeps up, which it will for every single one of us, it can feel like time has escaped us. According to Whitman, It would seem that this feeling stems from the fact that we were so immersed in the day-to-day obligations and goals of our college experience that we forgot it was we who were experiencing them. 

Based on this concept, I want to offer up the idea that if we perceive our time in YU correctly, this feeling of its all “escaping us” can be minimized and our growth over time can be maximized. The secret to such a perspective, I believe, is this: Rav Soloveitchik writes that the Jewish calendar moves in a circular motion, not according to our usual linear sense of time. As Rabbi Alan Lew writes in his book “This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared,” “If you are moving along the circumference of a circle, it might seem at first as if the starting point is getting farther and farther away but actually it is also getting closer and closer.” The Jewish year is such a circle. Despite time’s being completely non-physical, Judaism tells us that we do, in fact, have control over it. Time is not supposed to simply pass us, rather it should transform us. And in order for time to transform us, we must be conscious and awake as it moves forward along this circle. 

According to this idea, as every new semester begins, every day is one day further from the starting point; but it is also a return, a drawing closer to the completion of a cycle. This idea is also the basis of the great American game of baseball, a game whose object is to leave the starting point, home base, in order to return to it again, transformed with more “points” by the time spent circling the rest of the bases. In this way, we can understand the start of each semester in YU as that home base, and the incredible experiences offered on this campus as the other bases in between leaving and returning home. 

Every semester we can generally predict the opportunities coming our way, including multitudes of shiurim and learning opportunities on campus, meaningful Shabbat experiences, student council and club events and most likely an elevator or two breaking as well. However, if we go through each of these moments in the semester and experience them as the same person we were last semester, we are doing something wrong. These opportunities are not only there to provide a meaningful, fun and lively experience on campus, but they are also there for us to use them as our bases throughout the baseball field we call YU. At each point along the circle of the semester, we are meant to stop at a base, to partake in an event or moment on campus, and become conscious and aware of the “I” in the experience, taking whatever we can from it. We are asked to see it not just as “another event” but as an opportunity to gain something new as the individual experiencing it. Through this, we can come back to home base, to the following semester at YU or the next stage in life, with a greater sense of self and a higher number of personal and spiritual points accumulated along the way. Each time, we can come out as a changed person, the hero of our own story. 

Photo Caption: Torah Activities Council logo

Photo Credit: Torah Activities Council