Monk, Murder Mysteries and Mindfulness

July 24, 2004

The other day, I was reading an article or post from someone who was going on about how television tended to change our view of the world for the worse, increasing our level of fear and loathing about how bad things are, and in general increasing our sense of victimhood, etc.

Now, I’ll grant you that I buy the idea that if you focus on bad stuff (of any variety), you’re going to find more bad stuff.  As Rich Bandler says, “Look for problems, and you WILL find them.”

The specific example that was used was USA Network’s “defective detective” show, Monk.  A couple of recent episodes were cited, one where a couple kidnapped an elderly lady in order to steal a valuable antique chair, and another where a tow-truck driver was shot to hide evidence of another crime in the vehicle being towed.

The point being made was that these aren’t common things, and we shouldn’t be blithely accepting that they are as part of the premise of watching what is really largely a comedy.

I wish I could remember where I saw this—I’d be happy to put up a link.  Even though I now think it completely missed the point…

I read it, and didn’t think much more about it, other than a bit of a feeling that it was missing the point.  Last night, though, I was watching the latest Monk episode (another entertaining episode, with another goofy premise, which I won’t spoil for you) and my misgivings began to gel a little.

The writer was absolutely correct in one regard—these kind of things aren’t terribly common.  Most murders are brutal, straightforward acts of passion or coldbloodedness.  What they aren’t is murder mystery fodder.  Murder mysteries, as a genre, rely on something that’s rare in the real world, a murder as a conundrum—the classic example being the “locked room” mystery—someone found obviously murdered, alone in a room locked from the inside.

This murder inevitably baffles the ordinary police detectives, who either can’t solve it, or worse, settle on an innocent but guilty-appearing suspect.

The sleuth (our hero) then rides in, and in a feat of mental prestidigitation or forensic magic manages to solve the whole thing, usually using clues right in front of the investigators (and us) all the time.  Justice triumphs, the evildoer goes to jail, and any innocent parties go free.

Where I think the viewpoint I mentioned went wrong is that it focuses on the wrong thing—the (necessarily) stilted circumstance of the classic murder mystery. 

The point isn’t supposed to be “oh, how awful!”, it’s supposed to be marvelling at the skill and intelligence of the sleuth, the triumph of the human spirit over the dark murderer, of right over wrong.  With Monk, he even manages to do it with a host of his own personal problems that would have your average person huddling under the bed—making the victory that much brighter.

It’s a Good Thing ™.

More importantly, it’s also much a matter of what you focus on.  If you focus on “oh how awful”, you get more awful.  A harder habit to get into, but one that’s much more rewarding, is to focus on what’s RIGHT about any given situation.  It doesn’t much matter what the situation is—take the time to find something that IS right and perfect, even when most everything appears on the surface to be terrible—and you WILL be rewarded by finding more things that are right.  Get in this habit and stay in it, and your world will be a lot better place, regardless of what happens.

I was in a crappy mood last night.  I’d allowed myself to get pissed off over a couple of things, and the more I thought about them of course, the Bigger Deal they became.  Worse, I knew that while the situation may have not been pleasant, the attitude problem belonged to me—I had to be WILLING to be pissed off in order to be in such a bad mood.  Which of course pissed me off even more.  What it took was a conscious effort to find the good aspects of the situation, the things to be thankful for, in order to lighten up my mood.  I finally, begrudgingly, looked, thought about it, found the important things, and then calmed down and dealt with the problems—which were much smaller than they appeared once I finally fixed MY attitude.

Yeah, it takes effort.  Yeah, it’s worth it.  Do you want to walk around feeling crappy, pissed off and victimized? Or would you rather be happy?  In the final analysis, you get to make the decision yourself.


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