‘Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the house … we were beginning to feel the magic …
One of my favorite movies is the Tom Hanks’ version of “The Polar Express”, based on the original book written by Chris van Allsburg. He penned it as a “children’s story”, and in my opinion, he chose the wrong target audience. Although entertaining to children, it is both entertaining and educational (even life-changing) for adults.
Although set in the secular framework of a traditional Christmas, the Polar Express could be seen as a life lesson for human beings of any faith and age.
The flagship song, performed by Josh Groban, should hint at the underlying power of the story. Well, it’s less of a hint, than a direct command actually. The title of the song is simply “Believe”.
No natural force more potent than human belief
Mother Nature designed the power of Belief into our hard- and soft-wiring. She gave us a brain that is intricate and complex in design, but simple and formidable in it’s potential. The problem is that few of us tap into that potential.
We don’t believe in the power of belief.
When we believe that this magical power is only fantasy, our brain effectively destroys the power of belief, leaving only vague hope or desperate fantasy in its place.
Don’t forget that I am a scientist. I’m not a magician. I draw conclusions based on research that is published and reviewed by serious colleagues in white coats. We don’t tolerate illusions and tricks. We strive to reveal and share the truth.
I have written elsewhere in more detail on the structure and function of the human brain. I have summarized the emerging data that shows that we are able to harness the cognitive override of our cerebral cortex to silence (or at least control) the fear and doubt that originates in our protective reptilian brains, to deliver on our dreams.
It’s a powerful secret that highly successful people apply in their lives, and it’s available to each and every one of us.
It’s a profound truth captured in the story of the little boy, who climbs onto the Polar Express filled with doubt and fear, and returns home filled with belief and hope.
“We were dreamers, not so long ago. But one by one we all had to grow up”.
Why do we target fantastical movies to children? Perhaps we should rather ask why children believe more than adults do, and why this power decays as we “grow up”?
The answer lies deep within our brain, and in the words of our family and friends. At the base of our skull, our primitive reptilian brain is responsible for our survival. It teaches us to look out for danger, viewing everything with suspicion. Our well-meaning parents and family then add their voices of caution, guiding and guarding us against danger, pain, and disappointment. We shift from being naïve and hopeful to being cautious and cynical.
Slowly, our primitive brains and our environment erode our power of belief.
If you doubt this, watch any group of kids who, left to their own devices will engage in fantasy play. They don’t act as heroes and heroines. In their little minds, they are heroes and heroines.
I remember reading a striking review when the movie first came out. It described The Polar Express as a “creepie” movie. At first, this alarmed me. But as I read further, the reviewer went on to explain her description. She said it was “creepy” because it gently proposed that fantastical things really could happen. She was right.
The power of belief is so potent that it can be a little frightening.
Your future in Your hands!
Towards the end of the movie, Santa’s workers are preparing his sleigh. A silver bell breaks off the harness of one of the reindeer. One of the children picks it up. He listens for it’s jingling sound, and can’t hear anything, until … he believes.
As you approach your holidays, I invite you to watch the movie with fresh eyes. I urge you to adopt the urgency captured in the final stanza of the song.
“There’s no time to waste, there’s so much to celebrate”.