Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Lessons I’ve Learned from Jack Bauer

on June 24, 2014


I’m not ashamed to admit it – I love the TV show “24“. I’ve watched every season since the beginning in 2001, gleefully following the adventures of the main character, Jack Bauer (played by the ever-hunky Kiefer Sutherland), as he has saved a U.S. President from assassination, stopped an imminent nuclear bomb attack on Los Angeles, and generally thwarted terrorist plots against the United States and its interests. Jack is a hero, and therefore totally misunderstood, which led to his rise to the top of the fictional “CTU” (Counter-Terrorism Unit) and, ultimately, his spectacular downfall.

I was so happy when “24” was brought back for a new (albeit shorter) season this year. As I have watched this new story unfold it has reminded me of the lessons I’ve learned from Jack; important lessons about life, survival, and self sacrifice. I wanted to share those lessons with you.

Lesson #1:  If you’re still breathing, there’s hope. If you watch the show you know how many times Jack has been tortured by the bad guys; it seems like every season he gets the ever-lovin’ crap beat out of him at least once (sometimes twice), but somehow, even after being stabbed and whipped and hooked up to a car battery, as soon as he gets free he just pops up, kills all the bad guys in sight, and gets back to the business of stopping that season’s catastrophe. He’s totally focused and completely unstoppable. I think this is a great life lesson – no matter how bad things have been, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, or delayed, or thrown off course by things outside of your control, you can still bounce back and keep moving ahead. As long as you’re breathing, you have a chance to do what you set out to do.

Lesson #2: Whispering can be better than yelling. Keifer Sutherland gets a lot a flack about the fact that he whispers most of his lines. It’s not just a Jack Bauer character choice – if you’ve seen him in anything in the past 10 years or so, you know that it’s just how he speaks his lines. Yes, it’s annoying, but let’s look at it from a different perspective. The lesson I’ve learned here is that keeping your voice level and at a low volume can not only defuses a tense situation, it can also make people listen to what you have to say more closely than if you’re yelling at them. I’ve seen Jack about to explode with justified anger, but instead of screaming at whoever it was that screwed up, or lied, or whatever, Jack pulls it back, brings it down, and deals with it calmly. Sure, he loses it every now and then, and when he does, it’s really scary! So, save your outbursts for when it really matters – it will have a much bigger impact than running around yelling at everyone all the time.

Lesson #3: The big picture is what’s important, not your place in it. Over and over we’ve seen Jack sacrifice himself – his body, his reputation, his connection to his family – in service to a cause greater than himself. The lengths he has gone to to protect the people and situations in his charge have been extreme. At the end of the last season he found himself in a situation where he had to make a terrible choice:  he could choose to take actions that would keep the world from possibly descending into war, but if he did, he would be branded a terrorist and never be able to return to the U.S. or see his family again. Being Jack, he make the tough choice. I’m sure I will never find myself in that kind of a situation, but it’s good to have an example (even a fictional one) of a person who is willing to give up everything in service to a higher good. We should all strive to be more like that.

Lesson #4: Know when to respect the chain of command and when not to. Jack is constantly coming up against government bureaucracies that get in the way of him getting things done, and he has perfected the art of cutting through the red tape – usually with sudden violence. But at the same time, he tries really hard not to kill anyone on his “side” if he can at all help it. Why shoot the security guard who is just trying to do his job when you can knock him unconscious? Jack knows what needs to happen and how it needs to happen, and he doesn’t have any patience (less so as the years have gone on) with people who try to slow him down. However, he has a deep and abiding respect for the authority of the President, and for the democratic principles he fights so hard to protect. It’s a fine line we all must tread, the one between recognizing our personal liberty and respecting the government of the country we are blessed to inhabit.

Lesson #5: Time is on your side. This seems like a crazy lesson to have learned from this show where everything happens at breakneck speed, where there is no time to eat or to sleep or to even stop to take a breath (I don’t think Jack Bauer has had a bathroom break for 13 years). Somehow, Jack always finds a way to use the time he has to achieve his goal. He squeezes as much as he can out of every moment possible. He also understands the long game – he knows how our reactions to situations can have extremely long-term consequences, and he makes his choices accordingly. Jack has taught me that what we do every moment of our lives matters – not just now, but possibly for years to come. He has also taught me that time is a great healer of wounds, and a great counselor. What hurts us or what we don’t understand now will ultimately be healed and revealed. It is this knowledge that gives Jack the strength to do what needs to be done, the hope of future understanding and reconciliation. Sometimes, in difficult situations, making the right choice isn’t going to be accepted by everyone at the time, but if you understand that eventually it will all work out for the best, it can give you the peace you need to make those difficult decisions. That’s the wisdom of Jack Bauer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: