The Thing I Like About …

Clear and Present Danger:  the part where Jack Ryan takes the blame.

Clear and Present Danger describes a probably-all-too-common occurrence, in government and in our regular lives – there’s a clearly delineated “bad guy” who obviously needs to be eliminated, and a “good guy” who may not be a saint but whose heart is most decidedly in the right place.  He makes a decision that leads to outcomes, that lead to other decisions that lead to other outcomes – and somewhere in there is the ego, the part of people that doesn’t want to admit any culpability or acknowledge any embarrassment.  This well-meaning man and his cohorts make the actual situation completely horrible in an effort to seem like they made everything okay.  You know, the road to hell and good intentions and all that….

But Jack Ryan is one of those actual good guys – the ones who put others ahead of themselves, who would rather be honest than rich or famous, who would rather fix problems than hide them.  When he discovers the multi-layered cover-up – one that has resulted in a military team being left behind in the Columbian jungle with no resources, no support, and no escape route – Jack immediately goes to Columbia to rescue the soldiers and to do what he can to stop the bad guys.  He puts himself in harm’s way without complaint; he performs every action based on both what is efficient and what is right – no ego-decisions here.

Of course, the surviving soldier doesn’t know anything about Jack Ryan.  All he knows is that things went terribly wrong, and that his comrades died unnecessarily.  All he knows is that John Clark – the man who sent the team in and the man who’s escorting Jack now – did not answer when the soldiers called for help.  The surviving soldier runs out of his hiding place and attacks Clark, accusing him of leaving the men to die.  He’s bigger than Clark, and he’s very, very angry and stressed out, and he’s got Clark pinned down, but then Jack intervenes.  “It’s not his fault!” he yells in defense of Clark.

The soldier turns on Jack.  “Well, whose fault is it, then?”

“It’s mine!” Jack tells him.  “It’s my fault.”

Jack feels it’s his fault because he appropriated the funds for the mission without understanding clearly what the president intended to do with the money.  He feels it’s his fault because he thinks he should have pinned the president down, but I’m not entirely sure how a person would do that.  He thinks it’s his fault because he sees a wrong has been done right under his nose and – unlike almost everyone he works for and with – he finds it unacceptable for wrong to be done.

He takes the blame, and the soldier stands there and stares at him, not knowing what to make of this … no one takes the blame.  Blame is for giving, not accepting.  Blame is something people don’t want to admit to, and the need to avoid blame is what got his fellow soldiers killed in the first place.  The fear of taking the blame is what makes governments, corporations, and even schoolyards go round.  No one takes the blame.

Ignoring for the moment that I don’t think it’s really Jack’s fault at all, when he accepts “blame” he’s really accepting responsibility – a whole other thing – and through that he’s able to do something none of the cover-up specialists even entertain as a possibility – he solves the problem.   He solves it, gets credit for solving it, and becomes the most heroic, honest “boy scout” in Washington, while the men who worked so hard to avoid blame end up covered in poo.

Of course, Jack can’t go back in time.  He can’t un-make the decisions that led to these disastrous events.  He can’t bring the dead back to life.  And the soldier sees that too, in that moment when he doesn’t know what to make of Jack’s words – he sees that finding the person who’s at fault doesn’t really actually fix anything.  It may make it possible to seek the justice of punishment or the safety of removing “bad guys” from society, but it doesn’t un-ring the bell.  This thing that people spend their lives running from – it doesn’t really change one little thing at all.  Embracing it, though, allows Jack to move forward, to see what needs to be done and what can be repaired.  It allows for healing.  And it makes Jack one of the most honourable people in film.

Here’s to hoping people like that start popping up in the real world.

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2 thoughts on “The Thing I Like About …

  1. That scene is absolutely inspiring. I’ve referenced it in business time and again. In the moment, I feel like an idiot, citing Hollywood as a touchstone on something important (ownership, responsibility, accountability) but I continue anyway since the scene is so near to my heart.

    The soldier’s reaction to Ford’s unexpected acceptance of responsibility is my point. Everyone recognizes squirming evasion. No one respects it. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone knows that. My advice to anyone who’ll listen: own up and move on.

    Thanks for blogging about this important topic!

    • Thank you for reading it! I’ve always looked at film as our modern campfire stories – that are supposed to inform and guide us – and I think some films can be very transformative in that regard. I’m also a huge fan of taking responsibility … so please keep referencing it to anyone who will listen!

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