Some time ago, my husband and I watched the movie “Seven Samurai” which was highly recommended by my friend Henry. It is an old movie (1954) made by the world famous film director Akira Kurosawa. We enjoyed it very much. It is about a village of farmers that decided to hire seven samurai (ronin; masterless samurai) to defend themselves from an impending attack of bandits instead of letting the bandits steal their crops after the harvest. There were many things to be said about this movie. I liked what Kanbei (the head Samurai) said to others when he was trying to recruit his small army. He was honest about it up front and said “I have a job that brings you no money and no fame”. Since their reward was not monetary (except that they would be fed well during their stay in the village), it was meant to appeal to a Samurai’s sense of honor and duty. But before Kanbei had decided to commit himself to help the farmers, there was an interesting scene there was an interesting scene where “Coolies” (laborers in the village) who were staying at the same accommodation as farmers were making fun of them and their efforts to convince Kanbei. They were laughing at the farmers and suggested that they should just kill themselves. When Katsushirō, a young man who wants to be taken by Kanbei under his wings, told the Coolies to stop and said “You don’t know what these poor farmers are going through”, one of the Coolies replied back to him; “You don’t know that either! If you really understood what they are going through, you’d help them”. And he went on to show them a bowl of rice which was served for Kanbei, and told them that while the farmers are paying for Samurai to eat rice, they are eating millet. Kanbei was convinced – (my husband says he was guilt tripped) – by this speech and had accepted the job.
While it was certainly not “nice” for the Coolies to make fun of the farmers like that, he also did have a point when he said “if you really knew, you’d help them”. He was making us aware that you can be nice if no action is required of you, but you shouldn’t criticize others for not being nice when you are not willing to do anything about it yourself. It also reminded me of a scene from “Spirited Away” where a character called “No Face” was demanding to see Chihiro and she had to go into the room to face him alone. When one of the employees said “Oh, poor Chihiro (for having to go in that room alone)”, Yubaba, the witch who governs the bathhouse sneered at him and asked if he would like to take her place instead. It was as if she was saying “If you can’t back up your emotions by a concrete action, don’t even bother expressing your pity”. Of course, he didn’t want to take her place. He cared about her enough to feel sorry, but not enough to sacrifice himself so Chihiro wouldn’t have to go through with it.
When I told my husband that the scene where what the Coolie said convinced Kanbei to take up the job was one of the memorable scenes from the movie “Seven Samurai”, he shared this quote with me “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day”. What matters is your action, not how much you seem to care by saying words like “poor thing”. You can tell your kids all day long “be nice”, but they’ll be looking at you how you actually treat other people. They will be looking at you when you are faced with a situation – for example, what you do for a homeless person begging for money at the intersection, or how you treat people you are close with, such as your spouse or family members, when you are really tired or frustrated. When we make demands of our children to behave certain way, we should look into ourselves and see if we are a good model for them so they can learn from us.