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Matthew McConaughey, God and humility

If you think it's hard to be humble in Hollywood, try being Moses

How do you confuse and confound an auditorium full of rich, beautiful, self-important, free-thinking, human rights-loving Hollywood stars? It’s easy: just “drop the g-bomb” — mention God. That’s what Matthew McConaughey did in his thank you speech at the Academy Awards last week.

If you haven’t seen Dallas Buyers Club yet, see it. McConaughey is just outstanding as a redneck bigot given just a month to live who embarks on a fish-out-of-water journey and learns a lot about himself and others. I don’t know if he received his Oscar just for his acting, or because the Hollywood bigwigs who decide these things also like the AIDS theme of the movie — it actually doesn’t matter. His performance granted him the accolades of his peers, and a bonus 30 seconds of fame to say something to them, and to the world.

Now, my mother taught me that when someone gives you a compliment, you show gratitude and politely say thank you. But what about big-time movie stars who are the subject of the adulation of the masses, the constant attention of the media, and the whim of the critics of their next performance? How do they say thank you?

Many things helped them along the way to get them to their Oscar moment. Their agent, previous acting roles as they worked their way up the Hollywood totem pole, the director who brought out their best, the co-stars who supported their role. For some, it might have been the pushy parents who sent them to acting school, or the person who gave them their first big break that took them from waiting tables to professional acting. Many of those people would be in the room, and would be expecting a mention, either by way of thanks for the past, or more likely as an advance on the future.

And in amongst all that, perhaps some actors reflect on the gift they were born with. Because whether you’re an actor, a sportperson, or a surgeon at the top in your field, you are there to a greater or lesser extent because of your gift. A gift that was developed, with the help of others, and with hard work, into a talent. Now, you can thank those others, and you can thank yourself for the hard work you put in (and we all know the road to stardom is littered with corpses of undeveloped talent), but who do you thank for the gift itself? The gift you were born with?

You could thank your parents, you could call the gift a Darwinist accident of coincidence, or you could thank …. God. Matthew McConaughey chose the latter, and in doing so rattled the crowd and kicked up a storm of protest. God? What were you thinking, dear Matthew? This is the enlightened Hollywood. We don’t “do” God here.

Most hypocritically, an industry that is proud of its human rights campaigns chose to shun the actions of one of their own who exercises his right of freedom of religion, and “flaunts” his belief in God by acknowledging Him while saying thank you.

But besides a place where God is unwelcome, perhaps McConaughey works in an industry that struggles with the concept of humility. After all, it’s full of people who are paid immense amounts of money because they are so good at what they do. How can you be humble when you are just that fantastic?

Strangely enough, there is a similar anomaly in the Bible. Moses was considered the greatest of all Jewish leaders, yet was also known as the most humble of all men. He led the Jews from Egypt, ascended Mount Sinai and conversed with God like no other prophet in history. He knew how great a person he was. How did it not get to his head? How could he have achieved so much, yet remain so humble?

For Moses, the reconciliation was simple. He attributed his greatness not to himself, but rather to the opportunities put before him by God. Further, he reasoned that if God had chosen someone else in that burning-bush/sliding-doors moment, that person would have achieved more given the same opportunities. That is truly a humbling thought.

Because no matter how much we achieve in life, it’s really about what we do (or fail to do) with the resources and opportunities afforded us. When we normalize things in that way, anyone can achieve greatness. In an industry driven by ego and hubris, Matthew McConaughey is a breath of fresh air, reminding us that great ability can be enhanced further with great humility.

About the Author
David is a public speaker and author, an experienced technology entrepreneur, strategic thinker and adviser, philanthropist and not-for-profit innovator. He has thousands of ideas and is always creating new ways of looking at the ordinary to make it better. His capacity to quickly think through options and synthesise outcomes makes him a powerhouse in any conversation. With a generosity of mind and heart, his eye is always on creating ways to help those in his community. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia and with an Orthodox Jewish education and a university degree, he started several technology businesses in subscription billing and telecommunications. He is actively involved in a handful of local not-for-profits with an emphasis on Jewish education, philanthropy, next generation Jewish engagement, and microfinance. Along the way, he completed a Masters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is passionate about leadership, good governance, and sports. David is married with five children.