Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this luminous memoir, a true American icon looks back on his celebrated life and career. His body of work is arguable the most morally significant in cinematic history, and the power and influence of that work are indicative of the character of the man behind the many storied roles. Here, Sidney Poitier explores these elements of character and personal values to take his own measure - as a man, as a husband, and father, and as an actor.
Poitier was uncompromising as he pursued a personal and public life that would honor his upbringing and the invaluable legacy of his parents. Committed to the notion that what one does for a living articulates who one is, Poitier played only forceful and affecting characters who said something positive, useful, and lasting about the human condition.
Here, finally, is Poitier's own introspective look at what has informed his performances and his life. Poitier explores the nature of sacrifice and commitment, pride and humility, rage and forgiveness, and paying the price for artistic integrity. What emerges is a picture of a man seeking truth, passion, and balance in the face of limits his own and the world's. A triumph of the spirit, The Measure of a Man captures the essential Poitier.
What Hooked Me:
Lately, I have been fascinated with iconic people's stories. I like to read about their pasts, seemingly starting the same as everyone else's and then somehow, their talent comes through, unique opportunities open up, and they manage to circumvent what ordinary people struggle with to attain the top of their goals. What do they have that is special? Is it hard work, luck or destiny? Or a little of all of the above? I also like reading transformative and soul-searching quests. When one's young carefree outlook in life is replaced by deep pondering wisdom, something they then impart on us, in the hopes that we will learn. This autobiography is spiritual, hence wanting on the details of Sidney Poitier's personal family stories, but his honest reflections of himself and humanity make this a solid memoir for me.
'It's late at night as I lie in the blue glow of the television set. I have the clicker in my hand, the remote control, and I go from 1 to 97, scrolling through the channels. I find nothing that warrants my attention, nothing that amuses me, so I scroll up again, channel by channel, from bottom to top. But already I've given it the honor of going from 1 to 97, and already I've found nothing. This vast, sophisticated technology and ... nothing. It's given me not one smidgen of pleasure. It's informed me of nothing beyond my own ignorance and my own frailties.'(opening lines)
'On that tiny split island they call Cat Island, life was indeed very simple, and decidedly preindustrial. Our cultural "authenticity" extended to having neither plumbing nor electricity, and we didn't have much in the way of schooling or jobs, either. In a word, we were poor, but poverty there was very different from poverty in a modern place characterized by concrete. It's not romanticizing the past to state that poverty on Cat Island didn't preclude gorgeous beaches and a climate like heaven, cocoa plum trees and sea grapes and cassavas growing in the forest, and bananas going wild.'(3)
'But children still have to try to make some sense of everything they're bombarded with. They have to assume something, correctly or incorrectly, factual or otherwise. They have to encode all these distractions into the self that they're slowly, day by day, building. Child psychologists have demonstrated that our minds are actually constructed by these thousands of tiny interactions during the first few years of life. We aren't just what's directed by our genes, and we certainly aren't just what we're taught. It's what we experience during those early years -- a smile here, a jarring sound there -- that creates the pathways and connections of the brain. We put our kids to fifteen years of quick-cut advertising, passive television watching, and sadistic video games, and we expect to see emerge a new generation of calm, compassionate, and engaged human beings?'(6-7)
'This watchful way extended to human nature -- words, motivations, actions, and consequences. The quiet and simple atmosphere of my childhood enabled me to focus down to the level of the subtle body language that came at me from my parents and my siblings. On that tiny island I had gotten to know these signals really, really well. I had learned to read them just as I had learned to read the cliffs and the tides. I didn't understand them all, but over time I could use them as a reference point in trying to understand what others are saying, what they were doing, what they were behaving toward me as they were. I think that this is the basis for what has come to be called "emotional intelligence." It's a capacity that's nurtured by silence and by intimacy, and by the freedome to roam.'(13)
'Young blacks coming up in America were frequently subjected to parental lectures, almost all of which carried the same message: "Face this reality. You're gonna have to be twice as good as the white folks in order to get half as much." That was drilled into them. Bahamian lectures had another ring. "Get that education. Get out there and work. Get out there and hustle. Take whatever opportunities there are, and use them as stepping-stones.''(43)
'I always saw things differently than other people. I heard things differently. I viewed the future differently. Most times I asked myself much more that I was able to give. I came close to self-destruction on any number of occasions. I unquestionably had to be lucky, since my struggle for survival was no more than a patchwork of trial-and-error. And I've got to tell you, there was a satisfaction, a pleasure -- no, a thrill -- in whatever successes happened as a result of dancing close to the flame and beating the odds. In just being lucky.
Telling myself I would probably lose took the edge off being afraid to lose. "Prepare for the worst; hope for the best." I did that a lot. That was the credo that enabled me to get from crisis to crisis.'(80)
'Balance is what he was looking for, but he hadn't yet learned its name. In time he will come to know it as a state of being. It can only be found at a place that is widely believed not to exist. Truth is that there is a place of space that does exist between two opposites everywhere, and somewhere therein dwells a point at which balance can be found.'(91)
'Of all my father's teachings, the most enduring was the one about the true measure of a man. The true measure was how well he provided for his children, and it stuck with me as it if were etched in my brain.'(100)
'Greed and cruelty are pretty widely distributed throughout humanity, as are their victims. You can have oppression of one sort or another all across the board culturally speaking, and all across the board racially speaking, and all across the board religiously speaking.'(103)
|from the movie, The Defiant Ones|
'For myself, I rarely have the desire to stick it to people. It's enough for me to know that I've held myself in good standing with me, you see. It's enough for me to be able to look at the film and say, "That represents me well. That's how I would like people to see me. I would like them to see me as a person who has some value unto himself, and there it is."'(105)
'When you genuinely and sincerely apologize for harm and pain, it's a sign that your life has taken you to another place from where you were when you caused the harm and pain and had no apologies to make. But the process is never simple, and words can never undo lives destroyed.'(106)
'We have a history whose centuries are replete with genocide and attempted genocide.
What humanity has prepetrated goes by different names at different names. What began in Central and South America in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella culminated at the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee. We called it "exploring the New World," but it caused millions of deaths and the absolute elimination of cultures.
Today, maybe the majority of countries aren't involved in such cruelties, but the majority of countries rarely have been. It's generally one country, and then another, and then maybe a war between three or four countries. So here we are at the dawn of the new millenium, and how closer are we to the enlightenment that would take us beyond such behavior?'(106-107)
'In essence, I was being taken to task for playing exemplary human beings: the young engineer turned schoolteacher in To Sir, with Love,
the Philadelphia homicide detective far from home in In The Heat of the Night,
and the young doctor who comes courting the daughter of Tracy and Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.'(118)
'Anguish and pain and resentment and rage are very human forces. They can be found in the breasts of most human beings at one time or another. On very rare occasions there comes a Gandhi, and occasionally there comes a Martin Luther King, Jr., and occasionally there comes a guy like Paul Roberson or a guy like Nelson Mandela. When these people come along, their anger, their rage, their resentment, their frustration -- these feelings ultimately mature by will of their own discipline into a positive energy that can be used to fuel their positive healthy exclusions in life.'(124)
'Whenever there's a configuration in which there are the powerful and the powerless, the powerful, by and large, aren't going to feel much of anything about their imbalance. After a while the powerful become accustomed to experiencing the power to their benefit in ways that are painless. It's the air they breathe, the water they swim in.'(126)
'Living consciously involves being genuine; it involves listening and responding to others honestly and openly; it involves being in the moment. This is all equally true of effective acting. Acting isn't a game of "pretend." It's an exercise in being real.'(147)
'The laws of economics don't promote idealism or higher consciousness. The logic of profit and loss in a market-driven culture reduces the grandeur of the human species down to one role, that of "consumers." And all along, the pleasure principle is saying, "I have products I can sell you to take care of all that. You can get in online. Come, come, I have even more thrills for you."'(180)
'I also drew some conclusions about the educabiltiy of human beings. I had tended to believe in the essential nobility of man, had seen man as a Noble Beast, and had thought that education could bring about change. Anything good and necessary that wasn't happening was missing, I had thought, because of someone who didn't understand yet. But I came to believe that, while there are in fact some people who haven't yet been shown, there are far more who are never, ever going to see, regardless of what they're shown, and how often.'(223)
'We're all of us a little greedy. (Some of us are plenty greedy.) We're all somewhat courageous, and we're all considerably cowardly. We're all imperfect, and life is simply a perpetual, unending struggle against those imperfections.'(closing lines)
a Harper Collins book edition
Photos from Google Image Searches