If you know me personally and have spent some time with me you probably have been preached to about the marvel of the film Crocodile Dundee at some point.
I always get smiles when I mention the film, especially if people only know the name but have never seen it. You are probably smiling right now, or you were when you read the title.
Before my father recommended me to watch it, I thought it is a kids movie. Something like if Indiana Jones were to accompany a bunch of kids through the rainforest, wrestle some crocodiles, catch some fish, then a quick conflict, and then the end.
I didn’t know I was in for a treat when I pressed play on a movie with some guy fully dressed in leather smiling back at me from behind the play button.
I was nineteen at the time, freshly after the first part of my final high school examinations, when I met Mick for the first time and believe it or not, this encounter changed my life and in this post, I would like to tell you why.
The why is closely tied up to the time when I have seen the film and the state I was in. As I said it was after I finished the first part of my high school examination. Here in Slovakia, not only do we finish at later age, but also, in comparison to America, we have to take state-regulated examinations and an oral examination from four subjects, two of your choice, which we must pass in order to receive a high school diploma. It is called maturita for you who know. The high school I attended also has its own extra final examinations that I had to take on top of what is mandatory.
My final year was filled with periods of prolonged anxiety. I had to meet acceptance conditions I received at a university I wanted to go to, which meant receiving the highest mark from at least three out of the four subjects I was examined in. My mind was full of what-ifs, doubts whether I will get the grades, thoughts about the future, future after my degree, and then, Mick Crocodile Dundee met me in this chaos.
If you have seen the movie, you know it is a movie about an Australian bushman called Mick Crocodile Dundee, who attracts some attention from the media after a story comes out that he had been attacked by a crocodile that bitten his leg of and left him to die in the bush hundred miles from nowhere. As the story goes, after a week Mick crawls out of the bush, patches himself up and disappears. Sue Charlton, New York report, travels to the Northern Territory, to Walkabout Creek, to find out what had really happened. Of course, this is not exactly what happened, Mick still has both of his legs, but this is where the story of Mick Dundee and Sue Charlton starts.
Now, although the film is full of beautiful scenes of the Australian wildlife and nature, which give it its atmosphere, what had the greatest effect on me was what Mick said and did.
Let’s start with the first lesson I learned.
The good life is not only what you think it is
There I was, a young ambitious man working tirelessly every day to get the grades I needed to go to university, who thought the good life is limited to university, the city, traditional occupations, entrepreneurship, politics, tech, writing, limited to the vision I set for my life.
Then Mick comes along,
a man who lives in the bush,
in unity with nature,
who grew up under aborigines’ care,
who takes part in their rituals,
who hunts crocodiles and other gain for a living,
who drinks and brawls in the local pub,
who goes on walkabouts, one time as long as one and a half years,
a man who had never been to a city, and he seems to be completely content with his life.
How much material stuff do you really need? How much success do you really need?
I could not conceive of me failing to meet my university conditions. I made sure I would go to some university by applying to another one that did not give conditional offers based on maturita. University and the future it promised seemed to be a confirmation of me not being a failure, so I clanged onto it.
My desire to live a good life, to live life to the fullest, my plans for the future, of the great things I could do and all the things I should do to validate my existence, suddenly seemed skewed and/or unnecessary. Seeing Mick’s life, full of adventure and wisdom, but also full of commonness and solitude, made me realize the good life can be something totally different from what I had envisioned for myself.
I thought of all the other people who live similar lifestyles, indigenous people around the world, bushmen, rangers, hunters, and asked myself, could this not be equally content life?
Of course it can! And not only is there something about living in unity with nature, think of the love for Tarzan or Western novels, or Indians, but also this seems to be the more natural state of affairs.
This realization freed me. I no longer felt trapped in my vision of what the good life is, my imagination of what I can do with the years on this planet no longer limited me to just a few options.
Mick Dundee helped me to realize once again, that it does not really matter where I end up, what matters is who am I, how do I approach the people around me, how hard do I work, and whether I am able to enjoy numerous other ways of living life well.
Our materialistic and individualistic culture runs contrary to Mick’s way of living. Yet, none of us is obliged to go with the grain
I also realized my need for nature. My ancestors from father’s side were all farmers or worked for landowners pasturing their stock on the Slovak and Polish lands and working the land with their bare hands. Unity with nature is in my blood, as in many people’s blood.
No matter where I end up after I finish school, I immensely appreciate the desire to immerse myself in nature that Mick revived in me. I know that complete solitude is not the way I want to go as of now but I want to keep the fire of noble savagery burning. I want to stay in congruence to what is inside of me, which can be difficult in the big city. I want to retain a little of the savagery. About that sometime later.
Don’t take life too seriously, or in the wrong way
There is a scene close to the beginning where Sue asks Mick how old is he.
“So, how old are you?”
“Eh, dunno. What year is this?”
“You don’t know?”
“Time doesn’t mean much up here, Miss. You see, the aborigines don’t have calendars,” adds Walter.
“Yea, I was raised by the local tribe. I asked one of the tribal elders when I was born, and he said, ‘In the summertime.’”
In another scene, Mick and Sue are leaving Walter to go into the bush so Sue can see where the accident with the crocodile had happened. As they are parting ways Walt asks, “Right, well, till Wednesday?”
“Wednesday,” Mick replies with his back to Walt and gives him a parting wave.
Then Mick stops, looks back at Walt and asks, “What’s today Walt?”
“Monday?” puzzled Walt replies.
Mick gives him a nod and walks off with Sue.
At last, with a grin on his face, Walt tells himself, “Doesn’t know … doesn’t care. Lucky bastard.”
These two scenes rocked my world.
Mick tells time by looking at the sun,
he doesn’t know or care to know what day it is,
neither does he know how old is he.
He doesn’t care about the nuclear arms race going on at that time, again, has never been to a city, lives off his small safari business in almost complete wilderness.
Doesn’t know … doesn’t care.
Let that sink in.
Think about it for a moment. How stress-free such a life has to be. How free Mick is in comparison to us, small cogs in this machine we call civilization. He probably does not even realize his internal freedom, yet he is the freest man I’ve seen on screen.
He exudes confidence that comes from his ability to take care of himself.
He lives in unity with nature, with the wilderness, both the internal and the external that all our distant ancestors know so well.
If he desires to, he can leave anytime and go on a walkabout for months or years, knowing he will be able to take care of himself.
Mick would probably tell you he is happy and I would believe him. He has the mental and physical freedom I don’t yet have. However, to see Mick’s internal freedom was enough to propel me in search of mine.
I sometimes don’t understand the phrase you shouldn’t take life too seriously. I get it in the more common use, you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, but life? You get one shot at this, why shouldn’t I take it seriously? I want to get the most out of this one shot. This doesn’t mean mindless self-indulgence, rather for me it means hard work, sacrifice, and love, so that I can give something back to people, give back for all that I have been given. I don’t want to waste this life. I want to live to the fullest. As Thoreau writes (paraphrasing), I want to suck out the marrow of life.
Yet this desire, that is good, is more than capable to entrap me. It can be a life of constant self-criticism. I need to build an internal freedom. It is enough to give your absolute best at the place you’re now. That is still a great feat, however, not insurmountable.
Mick showed me that I shouldn’t take the particular path I envision too seriously, there are so many ways to do it right. Wasting one’s life doesn’t only have one alternative. Maybe I didn’t get into Oxford, but that matters little. Maybe I will not go to a great grad school and maybe I will, but that matters little. What is important is my attitude towards the problems I encounter, how intensely am I willing to work for a goal that I set my mind to, what man lies beneath the choices I make. And still even being a ranger for the rest of my life, if I thought I was doing something worthwhile that would make this world at least slightly better than if I had not come to be, then that would be enough.
Love life, live life to the fullest, but be free, that is the lesson I learned from Mick Crocodile Dundee.
And get some fresh air, preferably in some forest. No Andrej, a park in the middle of the city doesn’t count.
Have a genuine and equal interest in people
In the film, there are multiple scenes where Mick strikes a connection with various people that we often take for granted. Such as a limousine driver, porter, policeman, taxi driver, cleaning lady. Mick never overlooks people he comes into contact with, sometimes to an extreme when in one scene he greets everyone he passes by on a street in downtown New York. Mick notices people and shows a genuine interest.
That’s important to emphasize, he shows a genuine interest.
Mick doesn’t fake it, he doesn’t talk to those people because he expects something in return, he is not there fishing some future benefit, he talks to them because he takes them as equals, he respects them. On top of that, he wants to know them, he wants to know their name, their story, their joys, and pains. He doesn’t fake it.
There are so many people in our daily life we take for granted. All the different kinds of drivers that take us where we are heading, the post(wo)man who brings us our important mail, the delivery guy who brings our dinner, the porter at the building we enter, the security of the shopping center we walkthrough, the cashier when we pay for groceries, the waitress that serves us in a restaurant. There are many.
Yet often we don’t even notice them, not even a nod of acknowledgment, not to say anything about knowing their name and their story.
I realize if one lives in a big city, constantly encountering new people, it is impossible and even unhealthy to show care to all of them. But even acknowledging that they exist is often enough.
I often see a tendency in my encounters with people of a utility calculation. Do I want to talk to this person? What interesting can they offer?
But I think this is the wrong way of approaching human interactions. First I should have the flipped mindset, what value can I offer? How can both of us be enriched by this encounter? At times, it is enough to give a nod a ask how is their day going, but with genuine care for what they say. At other times, it can be a long, life-changing conversation. But it all starts with a genuine interest, not with self-interest.
The example Mick gives goes beyond the “ordinary” people for me. It is a way of approaching every interaction I have. Although I am not great at it, Mick inspired me to always really care about the other person. To be genuine in my interest. It is a two-step process. First, you really care about people, then you care about the person you are talking to. Of course not every time you want to remain talking to the person after a few remarks, but the initial attitude was genuine.
This connects with my previous post about The Enemies of a Good Conversation. The overarching idea of that article, expressed in the words of Stephen Covey, is that you should first seek to understand, then to be understood. First and foremost we need to seek to understand. That is the start. Of course later in the conversation when you show genuine interest, the people will be eager to get to know you too. But it starts with us.
Mick is an example of how well things can be in many respects. It is such a small thing as asking for the name of the security guy you are seeing every day. but it opens up a new world of wonderful connections and friendships.
Be genuinely interested.
So these are the three main lessons I have learned from Mick Dundee. In time I think I will come up with more but for now, these three lessons of seeing the good life in a different light, of not taking life too seriously or in the wrong way, and of having a genuine interest in people, are enough.
I hope this has inspired you in some way, or at least to give the film a look. Say Hi to Mick from me. He is the man.
Until next time.