Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Glengarry Glenn Ross and Purpose


“You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is."
“It is not a world of men, Machine.”
Al Pacino – Glengarry Glenn Ross

I really like the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.  I don’t know why, because it’s not a happy movie.  It stars Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Ross and Alan Arkin.  Alec Baldwin is also in it for about seven minutes and he gives a riveting performance.  Everyone does.  The movie is engrossing, believable and very depressing.  The characters are also depressing, as well as depressed, dishonest and desperate.  Most of them are also dislikable.   I’m not sure why I like this movie.
The plot revolves around four salesmen who make questionable real estate deals to unsuspecting customers.  It’s not clear to me if the real estate is real or just not as nice as they say it is, but either way, the salesmen are involved in some level of deception.  Simply to get in the door of their prospective customers they have to pose as out-of-town executives who “just happen to be in the area” and are taking some time out of their busy schedules to offer a “golden opportunity.”
The entire corporate culture not only allows this, it trains them to behave this way.  It is each man for himself.  Cooperation is rarely encouraged and depends on knowing what “the shot” is, that is, one man’s lies are supposed to support another man’s lies.  In fact, one of the few kind words is expressed by Al Pacino to Jack Lemmon, when Pacino describes how much he admires Lemmon’s ability to deceive customers.
I’ve had jobs like these.  Not necessarily jobs that were meant to deceive, but they were meant to elicit sympathy, interest or a false emotional connection in order to make a sale.  In addition, I spent a brief time in the corporate world and I witnessed first-hand the amount of anger and desperation involved in keeping the business running.  It wasn’t to the extent that it was done in the movie, but it was there.  Yes, most of the people I worked with were kind, fair and honest, but there was always the temptation to create shortcuts or deceive because the pressure was so constant.  And it didn’t help that I was not the best person for the position.
The fascinating aspect of the movie is how it shows the dark side of Purpose and the lack of Purpose at work.  Like everything else, Purpose can have its dark side.  When I have a goal, the completion of which is more important than honesty, kindness, respect, courtesy, love or the best interests of other people, then I am in the dark side of Purpose.   Money is often the goal for people who are in the dark side of Purpose. 
There is nothing wrong with money or wanting to make a lot of it.  I want to make a lot of money.  But there are inherent problems with having money be a primary goal:
1.     It tends to override other considerations such as time, health and relationships.
2.     It is a nebulous goal.  No amount of money is ever enough because unless you are the richest person in the world, there will always be others with more.
3.     How much money does one really need?  How much food can one eat?  How many clothes can one wear?  How long does the allure of goods last until more is wanted?
4.     Money will not solve relationship issues.  Money cannot buy friendship or love; it can only buy something that looks like friendship or love.  Lose the money and you will lose these, too.
5.     Most people know they want money, but they don’t really know why or what they will do with it.  This may be one of the reasons so many lottery winners go broke within five years.  (In the movie, only Jack Lemmon’s character seems to have a compelling reason for needing money:  his adult daughter needs surgery.)

This is why the purpose of Purpose must be love.  “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  It also covers a multitude of reasons to be in Purpose.  The movie does not cover the history of the characters, but I can’t help but wonder if each of them just happened into the job because they had no goals other than making money.  If this were the case, then it explains, though it doesn’t excuse the characters’ behaviors.
Al Pacino’s character explains his motivation best:

This was a man who was good at what he did, but he did it without Purpose.  To me, that is hell on earth.  And I won’t live in it.  I would rather create and live in a true world of men and women who have Purpose.  And I want to be one of them.  So I have to Get Started and Keep Going.