Sunday Snippet: Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

“Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.”

When most people think of Charlie Chaplin, they think of him for his silent film antics. They think of him as a comedian whose goal was to make us laugh. I think we’d all agree that Mr. Chaplin was very successful in achieving that goal, but we mustn’t forget how well he was able to perform when we could hear his voice too. And there are few scenes in that storied career that are quite as moving and quite as powerful as the speech from The Great Dictator in 1940.

Let’s put aside the context of how this movie was largely a parody of Adolf Hitler involving the “Dictator of Tomania” and his Jewish barber doppelganger, as that can open up an entirely different (though clearly tangential) discussion. Even when we consider this speech in utter isolation, its message is strong and still rings true today. The world is still in need of “humanity,” even though we love all the machinery and gadgetry that has bathed us in abundance. Somehow, we are still left wanting. Somehow, we can still feel empty inside.

Yes, advances in science and technology are great. That’s how we were able to get that “aeroplane” and how we now have cell phones, digital cameras and the Internet. We do have to recognize, though, that they are merely tools and we must connect with one another as people first. We should respect our differences, but we must also cry out for this “universal brotherhood.” We have far more in common than we have different.

We oftentimes view the movie industry as a source of entertainment or a simple source of distraction, but there are many great life lessons to be learned. The late critic Roger Ebert told us that kindness covers all of his political beliefs. He aimed to do something to make others a little happier, just as much as Charlie Chaplin did. It didn’t and doesn’t matter if you’re a political leader or just a humble barber.

“You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.”

The world has suffered through many terrible atrocities and while I certainly don’t believe we should forget about them, we must absorb the lessons they have to teach us and move on. Even Forrest Gump agrees. One of the greatest attributes of the human race is our ability to persevere. We have the power to create happiness. So, let’s go do that. Together.