Groundhog Day Release

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The publicity team for the release of the book Just Conflict is preparing for a large campaign to begin next Tuesday. As it happens, that is Groundhog Day. While the timing was not coordinated with this odd holiday by design, it has a kind of synchronicity which connects with the 1993 film by Harold Ramis starring Bill Murray.


In the film "Groundhog Day" Murray plays Phil Connors, a weatherman for a Pittsburg TV station, who once again is on assignment in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the February 2 festivities. He is not pleased. Indeed, very little seems to please Connors. He is a smart and funny but shallow and narcissistic loner who manages to alienate everyone he relates to.

Without explanation Connors has predicted that a big snow storm heading across the mid-west will miss mid-Pennsylvania. He is wrong. The blizzard hits and strands him and his team in Punxsutawney for a second day. Except it is the same day. He wakes up on what ought to be February 3, but it is Groundhog Day all over again. At least it is for Connors. For everyone else it is the first time they have had this day.

Day after day it is Groundhog Day. No one changes but Connors, and it takes him a while to begin to adjust his own behavior. It is Day Four before he remembers to miss stepping in the slush-filled hole on his way to his moment on camera at Gobbler's Knob, the park in the center of town where Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter.

As it turns out, both Phil's are afraid of their shadows. In Connors' case it is not his physical shadow but his psychic one that scares him. He can't get close to others because he is not close to himself. The heart of the film is the exploration of his transformation, kicking and screaming much of the way, into a person who not only knows himself, but likes himself.

Along the way he does what we all do to avoid deep connection. He explores all manor of self-destructive behavior. He has the luxury and the curse of not having long-term consequences. No matter what he does today, he will get a fresh start tomorrow.

He also explores manipulating others for his own immediate desires. He seduces women, punches out an insurance salesman, robs an armored car, all with no lasting effect on his self-satisfaction. In the end he does succeed in breaking out of his predicament, but one of the marvels of the film is that it is not obvious what he did to release himself.

Considering what worked for Phil Connors makes Groundhog Day the perfect time to promote Just Conflict. We all share in Phil Connors' predicament. In one scene where Phil is describing his situation to a couple of town drunks with the lament that it is the same day over and over, one of them responds by saying, "Yes, I guess that about sums it up." We all, to some degree, have the same day over and over.

While there are many powerful lessons the film can help us learn, there are two which stand out. One is that it really is the same thing over and over. We can try to duck or ignore life's problems but they keep coming back. While these problems are not as obvious for most of us as they are for Phil Connors, we all have patterns of conflict and we will continue to have opportunities to address them. Avoiding these opportunities just keeps us stuck.

The second lesson is the one it took Phil the longest to learn but which finally, in my judgment, set him free from the rut of the same thing over and over. In the beginning Phil tried a series of strategies which would either exploit the advantage his predicament gave him (carefully planning an armored car heist by observing the security lapses) or which attempted to get others to do something which would save him from his plight (getting Rita, his producer  played by Andie MacDowell, to spend the night with him so he was not alone when the day reset). What these strategies share is the hope that we will save ourselves by getting others to change.

We all know we can't change others. This was abundantly clear to Phil Connors. But it didn't stop him from trying and it doesn't stop the rest of us. It was only when Phil discovered that he couldn't make Rita love him--that he couldn't become so perfectly who she wanted that she would not resist him--that he gave up being dedicated to manipulation. Instead he decided to put the same dedication into being kind and considerate as he had put into getting others to do as he wanted. He dedicated himself to learning to play piano, not to impress others, but for the love of music.

When he transcends self-centeredness and becomes deeply centered in himself, he draws others to him. In the end, Rita falls in love with him because he is deeply connected with himself, not because he is who she wants him to be. This is a lesson we all need to learn. Deep and durable relationships come from authenticity. We can't be authentically ourselves when we are trying to make others love us.

Phil is able to effect this transformation in himself by practicing acts of kindness and practicing his piano playing over and over, day after day. It is practices for self-discovery and transformation which Just Conflict hopes to teach.

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