The Secret Life of John Stuart Mill

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Over the weekend I had the wonderful pleasure of watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. If you haven’t seen it, I HIGHLY suggest you drop what you are doing and watch it right away. The movie, starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig, encourages adventure and risk-taking. As if I didn’t already have a personal constant need for adventure, this movie took me over the edge (not to mention the soundtrack is killer).

The entire time that I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but to think of what we have been talking about in class: John Stuart Mill and his idea of experiments of living. Mill is known for his idea that we can do whatever we want to ourselves, as long as it doesn’t harm others. This idea has been applied to issues such as the legalization of marijuana and motorcycle helmet laws. But I think that without this principle, people wouldn’t be encouraged to do crazy adventurous stuff to keep their lives interesting and new. Mill writes, “As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others”. He encourages us to have experiments of living so we can learn a few things, and he also encourages “freedom and a variety of situations”. If Mill’s idea of experimenting in life hadn’t been so popular, who knows if we would have so many adrenaline-junkie-esque activities in this world. From skydiving to wingsuit base jumping, these activities let us play with life and learn a few things about ourselves.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty shows a man who seems to be stuck in his boring life, and all he thinks about is how he hasn’t done anything or been anywhere noteworthy or cool. Being encouraged by a beautiful woman, he embarks on a journey to track down a constantly moving photographer. This journey takes him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan. It involves him jumping onto and out of a helicopter, long boarding as a volcano erupts, climbing a mountain, and other adventurous activities. Perhaps the most important part of his journey, however, was him learning that he could do these things and he isn’t just destined for a meaningless life at the office. And this fact is true in all of us.

Mill encourages individuality and originality, and this involves us finding ourselves (trust me, I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s what I believe in). How else are we supposed to find ourselves if not through pushing our boundaries. Obviously not everyone is going to jump out of planes and risk their lives, but it’s possible to push your boundaries without taking that big of a step. In my opinion, this is exactly what Mill is arguing. By having experiments of living, we can find our originality and individuality. And if you’re looking for a boost in your adventurous side, just watch the movie and you’ll be bursting with excitement.

For those of you unsure of what to do to really push yourselves, I’ll just leave you with some wonderful ideas:

One thought on “The Secret Life of John Stuart Mill

  1. Can I start by saying how much I LOVE “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”? It gave me a serious case of wanderlust. I love the way that you analyzed Mill and his view on the “experiments of living” because I had a very similar view of it. As soon as I started reading that excerpt, I was undeniably drawn to its message. I think that a lot of what Mill is saying is that you shouldn’t be afraid to be whoever you, and if you don’t know who that is yet, don’t be afraid to find out. The real question is: how do we balance being an individual who set out to live our own life while still maintaining the self-discipline that Mill also thinks is important? How do we become a Pericles; is it even possible to do so, or is it just an idle goal?


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