A LESSON IN TOLERANCE FROM BENNY & JOON

by Paula on January 18, 2011

Caught the end of the Johnny Depp film ‘Benny & Joon’ on Sunday and although I’ve seen it before it captured my attention. Such a sweet and poignant film about relationships between a diverse set of people and I’m still finding myself pondering it today.

I think it was the ending that struck me most. For those who don’t know it, the story is about a man (Benny) and his mentally ill sister (Joon). It explores the relationship between the two as he struggles with the change in dynamics from becoming her full time carer, to letting another person (Sam) into their lives and watching their relationship develop in a way that is outside of his understanding and control.

The bit that is most staying with me today is the end scene. After a film of angst, hurt, control and emotional wrangling, Benny walks into a room to bring some flowers to Joon and stops at the door as he sees her and Sam ironing bread to make it into toast (!). You watch for a second as his inner voice wants to step in, tell them this isn’t appropriate, warn about the dangers, and take control of the situation. But, instead, he quietly lays down the flowers where she’ll find them later, and walks away.

Watching someone go from the position of complete control and fighting everything that is outside of this control, to reaching the point where they can say “I’m seeing what’s happening here and this isn’t what I’d do, but you know what, it’s ok” is a wonderful moment and one which so many of us can learn from in our working and every day lives.

I know as a manager it can be frustrating when people take on pieces of work and do it in a way that’s different to how you’d do it. I watch managers wrestle with this and become dictatorial about the person doing it their way, and the employee feeling so belittled and unempowered that they really can’t be bothered and feel very resentful. I was glad of this reminder, that if the end result is achieved the maybe taking a different route really isn’t a problem. Is this a lesson that might add value to your working relationships too….?

{ 1 comment }

Tony January 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm

There used to be a difference between professional and personal relationships.

A doctor prescribes a treatment for a patient and assumes that the nurse has the professional competance to carry it out. A programmer is given a specification for the inputs and outputs of a routine he is to write. As long as the function conforms to the spec he can design he can design it as he chooses.

In a highly professional context we treat our collegues as black boxes with well defined interfaces. This is demanding but efficient and allows everybody to keep their self respect. But then, its rather unusual if personal feelings do not creep in! (Think of the TV dramas that are built around this conflict.)

However, this film is not about the proper way to make toast! Rather, that Joon, who Benny assumes to be simply incomprehensible, is actually on the same wavelength as Sam. Its because we never really know whats inside the black box that makes for the drama of personal relationships.

The challenge of today’s business world is to bring inner and outer selves into a harmonious whole. Perhaps social media can help!

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