The Lottery of Birth

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about going to watch a film in public for the first time in years. That time it was in the back room of a pub with about thirty other people. Tonight I scaled up a bit and watched an amazing documentary at SOAS, along with about a hundred others.

The film was called The Lottery of Birth, and it’s the first of a series of three entitled Creating Freedom. I’ve been struggling to describe it properly because it’s very difficult to pin down. Each time I’ve tried to write about it I’ve had a strong urge to watch it again, and I’m confident that however many times I did that, I’d find new and resonant themes in it.

This film makes the case that every idea I have, and every interpretation or explanation I could give, will have been influenced fundamentally by factors like when and where I was born, the environment I grew up in and experiences I’ve had in my life so far.

This documentary questions the assumption that our beliefs, values and choices are our own. It draws attention to the role that our surroundings play in determining how we think, feel and behave. It also challenges viewers not to be passive, but to be alert and questioning about everything.

The film was conceived and co-directed by Raoul Martinez. Over the last four years, along with co-director Joshua van Praag, Raoul interviewed some of the world’s leading philosophers, physicists, historians, economists and ecologists. Their thoughts on freedom are presented in a way that creates space to think for yourself rather than pushing you towards a single viewpoint.

Making space to think, reflect and question seems particularly important at the moment, when so much of what we take for granted is under threat – healthcare, human rights, independence, equality. Institutions and ideas that have taken lifetimes to build up are being destroyed overnight. What’s happening politically at the moment seems to rely on each of us having a very narrow point of view. The Lottery of Birth helped open my eyes and my mind a little wider.

Writing this blog for the last two and a half years I’ve shared my experiences with the aim of changing the way people think about Tourettes and about disability. Each night when I’m deciding what to write about I know I’m selecting only one very small aspect of my life. I also know that there’ve been times when I’ve been reluctant to write about some things at all, or when the process has been so hard I’ve thought about giving up.

Tonight’s film has made me reflect on what I share with the people who read this blog, and more importantly on what I don’t. It’s made me realise how important it is to challenge myself to write about things I feel uncomfortable or unsure about.

The final words of the film’s trailer sum up the key message:

‘We are not born free. In fact, to take our freedom for granted is to extinguish the possibility of attaining it.’

If you’re keen to see it for yourself, keep an eye on the Creating Freedom page for information about future screenings.

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