The fascinating life of Richard Dreyfuss and why the need for a human interaction
This close encounter with Dreyfuss was billed as an intimate evening with a living legend. This opportunity to see Richard Dreyfuss, the engaging actor known for his roles in the Spielberg films ‘Jaws (1975)‘ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)‘ (and a hundred other films).
At just thirty-one, Dreyfuss already has been seen in three of the biggest-grossing films of all time: ‘American Graffiti (1973),’ ‘Jaws’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’
He has always wanted to be an actor, and has always been, according to nearly everyone he’s ever known, geared for success. Now he is all but synonymous with the word. After only seven features, he received his industry’s highest accolade when he won the Oscar for Best Actor of 1977 (over Richard Burton) for his performance as Elliot Garfield in ‘The Goodbye Girl (1977)‘.
Dreyfuss noted that he enjoyed working with Spielberg, “who understands the acting process.” Not every director does.
But within a minute, the conversation turned unexpectedly to Dreyfuss’ true passion these days: the need for civic education in America.
We have managed to disconnect education from preparation for the rest of your life. We are addicted to immediate gratification, removed from the necessity to take time for decision making, for rumination and contemplation, thinking things through. Under the Bush administration, Bush said: ‘Thinking things through is for sissies.’ Education is horrible in the United States.
Dreyfuss’ passion is such that he recently spent four years studying at Oxford, to prepare for his project to instil civic education in American schools. Already he was speaking to schools in Texas and California, to propose his civic-centric curriculum, entitled “The Fourth Branch”, which includes American history, the importance of dissent and debate, and civic clubs, for the purpose of reinforcing Enlightenment values.
An incredible and extraordinary man to see, earnest and modest at the same time, with his famous laugh coming to the surface ever so often, Dreyfuss himself interestingly enough had no formal education after high school, clearly an issue for him, as he came back to this point often.
“Why did I become an actor?” he said. “Because it is not one of those artistic professions that requires training. You do it spontaneously, in the present. You can’t go to class and learn to become a better actor. Plus with acting you are saved the frustration of making mistakes on paper, then ripping the page from the typewriter,” he imitated, in his lively way, a hand pulling out the ream.
Dreyfuss perceives a distinction between the gift for expression on paper and that for live expression. As a child, aged nine, he already had the confidence that he had the latter gift. “I was certain I would become a successful actor,” he stated firmly. “Certain. 100 percent. I didn’t want to be one, I was going to be one.” He grinned and gestured to his chest. “I was built for the hunt!” Already, in his family, he always liked be the “spectacle,” vying for this position with his siblings and cousins.
Dreyfuss continued to reiterate the need for better human connection, to the point of using film as the medium for accomplishing this fact.
Humans are born wired for connection – it’s in our DNA, as strong a need as food, water and warmth. And if you look at a new-born baby, that makes sense. Unless babies successfully attach to their mother, they won’t be able to survive – human infants are born completely helpless, so we are entirely reliant on our caregivers. A loving, secure relationship is literally a matter of life and death for babies.
So, in our brains is an ‘attachment system’, which gives us a magnetic attraction to others – (usually) first mum, then dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, school friends, teachers, adult friends, colleagues, mentors and later romantic partners and our own family, when the whole cycle starts over again.
Jeffrey Young, the founder of schema therapy, understood this need for attachment – that’s why it is one of the core developmental needs he identified in all children (along with the need for safety and protection; to be able to express our feelings and emotions; spontaneity and play; and boundaries/being taught right from wrong).
Another psychotherapy pioneer to understand this fundamental need was psychoanalyst John Bowlby, often called the ‘father’ of attachment theory. Bowlby realised that all children (and adults) need a secure attachment to their caregivers, especially mum. If we are lucky enough to develop this secure attachment in infancy, this ‘attachment style’ will remain constant throughout our lifetime and help us form strong, stable, loving relationships with friends, romantic partners and then our own children.
A strong culture is one where there’s trust, connection and belonging, among more. Without trust, you don’t connect with colleagues and without connection, it’s only a matter of time before any sense of belonging to that employer dissipates and you start looking for a job elsewhere — likely with a competitor.
One of the best ways to gauge whether there’s connection or not is to look at your meetings. Do the right conversations take place during those meetings, or, do people wait for the meeting after the meeting so they can get “real work” done? If it’s the latter, then you might want to consider strategies for building trust.
The Value of Human Connection—Unplugged | Kim Gemmell | TEDxChilliwackKim Gemmell - TEDX 'The Value of Human Connection
Dreyfuss is an incredibly extraordinary individual, one that has an astute purpose in life and one that will continue to be transparent with the truth any why.
Final thought, I really love films. From science fiction to drama, almost all kinds of genres and sub-genres. However, the best aspect, which encompasses all forms of art, is the ability to create meaningful social connections through a shared experience, which as an author has been my mantra for writing.
This is the power all art has and almost all art strives for. Art has been the glue that has held various human beings and various cultures together. Film has the power to express a culture’s ideals and shape them. Art, especially film, is important because it gives us the ability to form lasting human connections through by letting us share our experiences with each other, something that Dreyfuss shares in every film he has ever made.
In a world full of people, what can be more fulfilling than knowing how to form healthy relationships and establish deeper connections with those around us – to feel socially connected, especially in today’s increasingly isolated world.
A great quote by Richard Dreyfuss:
“We need to get back to reasoning and thinking things through. The future generation is being brought up in greed and without a true understanding of civics. There is no more emphasis on knowledge and time. As a society we need to process ideas and understand what certain principles.”