Life Lessons from “Pocahontas”

There’s always that one childhood movie which you spend countless hours watching and re-watching until it almost becomes routine. So was Pocahontas.

I’ve heard stories (since it was long before I started keeping a mental inventory of everyday occurrences) that I would watch Pocahontas every day if I could. If we were away from the TV and I started to fuss, you better believe my three older sisters would sing “Colors of the Wind” or “Just Around the Riverbend” to appease me. I can say with almost certainty that they had the movie memorized since I watched it so much. To this day they fondly quote Grandmother Willow’s proverbial sayings at family gatherings.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, but at my recent trip to Disneyland/California Adventure, I had the pleasure of reliving my childhood obsession while watching “World of Color” and while visiting the Storybook building in CA Adventure. While reminiscing in the music and stunning artwork of the film (seriously, I never realized what a visual masterpiece it is), I paused to let the weight of Pocahontas’s words soak into my skull.

Wisdom may be found in even the most unlikely of places, and Pocahontas, one of the most underrated yet most beautiful Disney films around*, offers some great treasures to live by.

  1. Although in the past they have considered themselves to be the superior race, white people know nothing. Pocahontas wastes no time in revealing this to John Smith.
    “You think I’m an ignorant savage / And you’ve been so many places / I guess it must be so / But still I cannot see / If the savage one is me”
    She goes on to note how whites “think [they] own whatever land [they] land on,” though the Earth is not “just a dead thing you can claim.” And how they “think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like [them].”
    Although these may seem vague generalizations, Pocahontas put into words–or song–what I had been thinking for years during history class. And in the simplest way to boot.
    Often times the ways of men in that time disgusted me, until I stopped to consider the almost uncomfortable familiarity of our present ways. Because most things have not changed. What Pocahontas teaches is timeless and has universal applications.
  2. We can attain true knowledge and insight if we look through a new perspective.
    “If you walk the footsteps of a stranger / You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”
  3. We are all connected.
    “In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.”
  4. We, inevitably, take things for granted.
    But Pocahontas asks us to “roll in the riches all around [us] and for once, never wonder what they’re worth.”
    This line especially makes me consider our materialist society and how we sometimes we view nature purely as a pool of resources for our own gain when in reality its value cannot be placed. The nuances of nature truly are priceless.
    “How high will the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, you’ll never know.”
  5. We’re terrified of the unknown.
    “The water’s always changing, always flowing / But people, I guess, can’t live like that / We all must pay a price / To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing / What’s around the riverbend / Waiting just around the riverbend.”
  6. We shouldn’t always choose the safest paths in life.
    “Should I choose the smoothest curve / Steady as the beating drum?”
    For in the winding journey we sometimes learn the most.
  7. And, of course, how one person can change everything.
    Smith: “And if I never held you / I would never have a clue / How at last I’d find in you / The missing part of me.”
    Pocahontas: “If I never knew you / I’d be safe but half as real / Never knowing I could feel / A love so strong and true.”
    This lesson intertwines itself with Pocahontas’s comments on the unknown. Sure, we may be happy and safe never knowing one person, but we would never taste that indescribable feeling of having said person in your life, to know “how precious life can be.” Life would seem half as worthwhile.

I could write pages and pages about some of these lessons (though I haven’t the time at the moment nor do I think many people would read it–if anyone is reading this current post at all).
Pocahontas illuminated the way the world was, is, and can be if we live by these lessons. This gem has philisophic implications I have yet to fully recognize–all packed into a pleasant 81 minute journey through pre-colonial America.

*Yes, I know its historical accuracy is questionable at best, but let’s consider the film as a complete work of fiction and appreciate it as we would any other beautiful story.

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