13 Sep 3 Critical Lessons About Modern Life from The Walking Dead
I am an unlikely fan of The Walking Dead. I don’t like zombie stuff and I don’t like horror. But this one is different.
The Walking Dead has escaped both genres and has climbed to the stature of a modern myth. It has important lessons to teach us all—relevant things, practical things, and uncomfortable (but potentially inspiring) things. I have been transfixed by this tale since Season 1/Episode 1.
I don’t usually watch television or movies to pick their bones for metaphors and lessons. Most often, I just curl up after a long day and let a great story carry me to faraway places.
But this one is different. Here’s why. Here are three lessons for us modern humans that we can’t afford to ignore:
1. It’s not about the zombies
After the first several episodes that set the stage on which the rest of this story could play, the zombies weren’t the real problem. They are a symptom. They are victims of the real problem. They provide the physical evidence of the plague—the insatiable teeth and rotting fingers—that makes the real problem something that can’t be ignored.
The real problem is our fear. A pandemic of numbness that has swept our world and is eating away our brains and our will to live. It’s what makes us believe that being truly alive isn’t possible anymore—that standing up and carving out something real can’t be done. It tells us millions of lies every day. It says that the world is too big, fast, and overwhelming. It says that we can’t handle the stress and anxiety, much less do anything that will make a difference. It makes us afraid to try.
Like Rick and Michonne and Carl and the other heroes of this story, we face a world full of zombies. These are people who have given up and are dragging themselves along without any life. They aren’t the problem, though. The problem is fear that makes us give up hope. Fear that devours our creativity and makes us believe that nothing is worth it anymore.
We also face people like Negan who prey on our fears. They seek power by making us believe that cruelty and selfishness are the new virtues and the only solutions for a world gone crazy. These bullies try to make us believe that love can’t win and that we need their guns, greed, walls, and heavy boots to keep us safe. They aren’t the problem. We must deal with them, but the real problems are the numbness and fear that give them power.
Many people believe that there are only two choices—to be a zombie or a bully. That’s not true. There’s a third choice. We can be creative warriors. We can take the power back.
2). This is personal and it’s not optional
Like all reluctant heroes in great myths, the brave souls in The Walking Dead didn’t set out to lead or make a name for themselves. They were torn out of their comfortable lives by The Real Problem. They didn’t like it and throughout the series, they sometimes tried to run and hide. Sometimes they came close to saying, “This is other people’s problem.”
All reluctant heroes face a challenge and a call to action, though. It’s when the battle is no longer a distant thing that they can ignore. It becomes personal. It becomes about whether or not they can stand up for their own beliefs. When that happens, stand the hell aside. Shit’s about to get real.
Shit has gotten real. Look around us. It’s no longer possible to ignore. Things we used to believe only happen “over there” or in the long-ago cruel history of our race are now current events, and they are happening in the streets of our own cities.
Despair is so seductive. It whispers things like, “You can’t do anything about hurricanes and nuclear threats and political bullies. You can’t even lose twenty pounds and clean your fridge and help your kids be good humans. Just look away.” When it says these things, they sound true. But they are lies. There are solutions and all of them start in some small, personal way.
Creativity can’t live in a little box over there that’s labeled, “Oh that’s nice.” It’s not optional. Why? See #3.
3). Life matters. Creativity matters
This is where it all comes together. Life and creativity are inseparable. (I’m growing tired of the word “creativity” much like “authenticity.” I don’t know a better word yet, but this one’s wearing thin from overuse.) Creativity is the ability to figure things out. It is the ability to come up with solutions. Creativity fuels the quest to speak our inner truths and won’t let us rest until we’ve done it. Creativity is how life solves the problem of being itself. It’s how we do, too.
Life, in the face of all the rot and stench and death, keeps finding a way to be itself—irrepressible and gorgeous and painful and… life. As it births more of itself, Life gives us art, and stories, and the warmth of dinners with family, and love affairs, and babies, and hot tears that spill down our cheeks when something true happens, and meaningful friendships, and real, satisfying work that serves the world.
Life keeps giving us reasons to live.
At the end of TWD Season 7, Michonne whispered through swollen, bloody lips, “We… win.” She and all the rest had been fighting (against insane odds) not for power or to get more stuff, but for the simple reason that giving up meant that life was no longer worth dying for.
When they decided that living was worth it, Life took over and helped them figure things out. That’s what life does. It waits to help those who make the decision. Every single real problem in our real lives requires a creative solution.
For years I have taught a course called Creative UnBootcamp. For a long time, even though it was satisfying to help aspiring writers get started, I didn’t make the connection to what I’ve written here today. I was incredibly reluctant to make it a broader course because I was afraid that it would end up being some kind of fluffy, feel-good thing—but would still occupy an “Oh that’s nice” box in people’s heads.
Now I have come to see that “creative recovery” isn’t optional for any of us who care about life. It’s about standing up, clearing a path, and taking our own lives back. It is about reconnecting with the energy that fuels our art, and work, and everything that matters.
The action of doing that makes room for our own vital natures to revive and breathe. When our creative selves can breathe, everything starts to happen. We find solutions, we get rid of what’s old and dead. We find our own beating hearts again. We make a difference in the world by being alive this way.
Creative UnBootcamp isn’t your solution. You are. But it might be a start. It might help you hear the drum of your own heart and find new energy to be the creative warrior you were meant to be.
We need you. Life needs you. You need you. This is a call to arms.
Jacob Nordby is a writer from Boise, Idaho. He is the author of Blessed Are the Weird – A Manifesto for Creatives. He leads a worldwide conversation on social media via his Facebook author page and Blessed Are the Weird community page. He is the founder and teacher of the Creative UnBootcamp—a Course for Creative Recovery.