Written by Katie Mock
Why do we call ourselves Jedi? There are many parts of the path that have their roots in other places: Buddhism, Taoism, stoicism… the list goes on. But we have chosen the patently fictional template of ‘Jedi’ as our identifying marker and inspiration.
I went to lunch with a college mentor shortly before I graduated. She was an Episcopal priest that, despite my distinctly nontraditional and non-religious leanings, had been a great source of friendship and help. I mentioned the Jedi way to her and she was, as many are, deeply confused. “But,” she blurted out, “what do you base it on? None of it is real”.
She was right, of course. Star Wars and the Jedi are extremely fictional. I can name the year they were invented and the person who created them. Most people would say this is a severe flaw in any sort of philosophical or religious path. How can it have deep meaning or inspiration if it didn’t come from ancient times or a divine source? Isn’t it just cultish or fannish to choose a role model that is only a few decades old? However I believe that the obvious fictional nature of the Jedi makes them ideal role models.
Firstly, the fact that we draw our inspiration from fiction makes it very difficult to take ourselves too seriously. There can be no evangelism, because everyone knows what the Jedi are, and can decide for themselves if they like the idea. There can be no literalism, because we have no sacred text. Even the Jedi code is vulnerable and open to interpretation; no Jedi can say “This is what the code means”, because we know it was written for a fictional book. It was probably even phrased the way it was simply because it sounded ‘Jedi-ish’ and cool. Many religious people hit the pitfall of ‘our way is the right way’ or ‘this is the direct word of god, therefore my understanding of it and actions are right’. With the Jedi path there is no recourse for that, no matter how some try. We are forced to laugh at ourselves when we use the word Jedi, even as we take pride in our training and dedication, and that alone is a great strength.
Secondly, in fiction we have the luxury of examining a situation from many angles at our leisure: should the character have acted the way they did? What information would have changed the situation? How should they have prepared? Why was their action correct or incorrect? Not only can we learn from the characters victories and failures, but we can put ourselves in a myriad of situations and test our Jedi ideals in our minds before we implement them in person. Because our initial inspiration is already fictional, this comes with the territory. A good Jedi must have curiosity, imagination, and an open mind.
Thirdly, when we give ourselves permission to be inspired by fiction, not just enjoy it and put it aside as escapism or fun, when we allow ourselves to be deeply moved by fictional material, to the point of changing our lives, principals, and morals to encompass these fiction-based ideals, we free ourselves from cynicism and pessimism. Our world is complex, and every situation has many facets, tinting everything not in easy shades of black and white, but in the full Technicolor of real life. Someone who dares to call themselves a Jedi can look at the fictional and see what we as a species can accomplish, what we can imagine. If we are able to imagine possibilities and futures as strange and unexpected as those found in fiction, we can imagine solutions to the problems of the world and see brighter futures for ourselves and for everyone.