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“People want only special revolutions, in externals, in politics, and so on. But that's just tinkering. What really is called for is a revolution of the human mind.”― Hendrik Ibsen

The Magic 8-Ball is a plastic sphere, made to look like an eight-ball, that is used for fortune-telling or seeking advice. The concept first appeared in a Three Stooges movie in 1940 and was manufactured by Mattel in 1950, the year I was born. When I was a kid, we could barely sit still waiting for the answer to all sorts of serious questions like, “Will the ice cream truck drive by today,” “Will we have fried chicken for dinner,” and “Does that girl with the ponytail like me?”

We still have a Magic 8-Ball for when our grandkids visit. However, even as a supposed grown-up, I’m still intrigued with unusual toys. For fun, I queried the Magic 8-Ball with timely questions about the nature of greed. The same answer that kept slowly floating to the surface reminded me what my wife at 16 years old said when I first asked if she loved me, “Better not tell you now.” Anyway, I changed tactics and searched the web for someone who had previously explored this matter. Enter Henrik Ibsen.

Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828-1906) was a Norwegian playwright and theatre director. As one of the founders of modernism in theatre, Ibsen is often referred to as the father of “realism" and one of the most influential playwrights of his time. His major works include A Doll’s HouseAn Enemy of the People, Hedda Gabler, Ghosts and Master Builder.

Here is an amazing fact: Ibsen is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare and A Doll's House one of the most performed plays.

I have vague memories of reading A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler for a European literature class in between napping in the old Royce Hall at U.C.L.A. Not an easy read for an 18-year-old. But, some things about him stuck. For instance, his plays were considered scandalous at a time when theatre was supposed to model “moral” behavior. As a rebellious teenager of the sixties, I found this quite appealing!

Regarding greed, I believe one of Ibsen’s major contributions to society, that we could all benefit from during these tumultuous times, is that he openly explored the relationship people have with “status and objects.” Most important, he shared a deep insight into the dangers of excess that also applies today, opining: “Money may be the husk of many things but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintance, but not friends…”

This quote is a wonderfully concise justification for why it is important to do what Buddhist teacher, Josei Toda, described as our human revolution. Having desires is intrinsic to being human. What matters is whether we can develop sufficient wisdom and compassion to transform these desires in ways that create value for both ourselves and others. Taken one step further, if we want to alter what we see around us -- our immediate circumstances or even broader societal issues -- we first need to make internal changes. While I realize this can be tough for some to swallow, I have found it to be the most empowering and hopeful attitude to embrace during difficult times.

As we work together to manage this pandemic and restore our economy, I find it helpful to acknowledge that there will be always be new problems to overcome. And as trite as it may sound, lasting happiness only comes from within (and a little help from a Magic 8-Ball never hurts).

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

Next week: Gilda Radner & the Coronavirus

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