I recently read an article about actress Angelina Jolie. The catalyst for her change in perspective was a script. Jolie, who won an Oscar in 1999 for her role in Girl, Interrupted, could have been the poster girl for a life adrift. The child of actors Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, she had grown up in Hollywood and indulged many of its excesses. She was called a "wild child." And she was well known for drug usage, outrageous behavior, and sometimes self-destructive actions. She was convinced she would die young.
"There was a time where I never had a sense of purpose, never felt useful as a person," says Jolie. "I think a lot of people have that feeling--wanting to kill yourself or take drugs to numb yourself out because you can't shut it off or you just feel bad and you don't know what it's from."
Success in movies did little to help her. "I felt so off balance all the time," admits Jolie. "I remember one of the most upsetting times in my life was after I had attained success, financial stability and I was in love, and I thought, 'I have everything that they say you should have to be happy and I'm not happy.'"
But then she read the script for Beyond Borders, the story of a woman living a life of privilege who discovers the plight of refugees and orphans around the world. Jolie recalls, "Something in me really wanted to understand what the film was about, these people in the world , all these displaced people and war and famine and refugees." For a year she traveled around the world with UN workers. "I got my greatest life education and changed drastically," she observes. She visited camps in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cote d'Ivoire, Cambodia, Pakistan, Namibia, and Thailand. Her entire perspective changed. She realized that the entire world was made up of other people, many of whom were in dire circumstances, many of whom she could help.
When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked her to become goodwill ambassador in 2001, she was happy to do it. She also began donating money to help refugees and orphans, including $3 million to the UN's refugee program. (She says she makes a "stupid amount of money" to act in movies.) And she adopted a Cambodian orphan, Maddox. Recently Worth magazine listed her as one of the twenty-five most influential philanthropists in the world. She estimates she gives almost a third of her income to charity.
Jolie puts it all into perspective: "You could die tomorrow and you've done a few movies, won some awards--that doesn't mean anything. But if you've built schools or raised a child or done something to make things better for other people, then it just feels better. Life is better." Why does she feel that way? Because she finally gets the big picture. She stopped focusing on herself and began putting other people ahead of herself.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."