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Incredibly Loud & Dangerously Unclose… to Being Human?

By: Dennis Rebelo | 16 Jan | 7 comments


Just before New Year’s Eve, I dashed to Maine to watch the private premier of the film Incredibly Loud and Dangerously Close.

The film’s scheduled for national release on January 20th, but I got my exclusive sneak peak courtesy of my friend, Alex Libby, who helped director, Stephen Daldry, do research for the film by speaking with September 11 survivors.

After warming up in the Freeport movie theatre, the lights dimmed and the audience watched 10-year-old Oskar Schell—portrayed by up-and-coming actor Thomas Horn—capture what it means to be interconnected in a father-son relationship. Tom Hanks portrays Oskar’s father, who is killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City.

As my wife Shannon and I watched the multiple plotlines unfold, my son, Alex, came to mind and I thought, how is it that interconnections in family are both incredibly loud and often dangerously unclose?

Systems approaches to organizations seem clinical at times.  As organizational consultants we strive to “serve” the company, the CEO, and the mission.  But what about our first organization—our homes? Where do the people in it—our family members—stand as stakeholders? How complex are the systems we create around those stakeholders?  Do we know the systems that promote human sensitivity?

We seem to proclaim that people matter at home and at work.  The incentives to promote humanness among team members at work seem crystal clear yet they often give way to humanness at home.  Hanks and Horn are gelled by a system of reconnaissance—an often goofy yet loosely reality-based escape of learning about New York City the way an anthropologist-researcher might.  Their engagement driven by learning was both mutual and joyful.

So I started thinking what systems might we offer that play to a person’s gifts in our home lives? How creative can we be as fathers and mothers to serve our children in their developing worlds?  You see, Oskar Schell was a fearful boy whose obsessions and curiosities were drawn into the system of exploring that his father crafted for him. Where has all our parental creativity gone these days anyway?

The CEOs and COOs of American households are the fathers, mothers, and parental units that drive engagement—a duty we often seem to forget.  Without giving away the movie’s secrets, I’ll wrap up this post with one final, shameless, systems “plug” and use Chip Conley’s Emotional Equation, Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success as inspiration to punctuate my point. Family engagement needs an equation much like despair, grief, happiness and joy, and here it is:

Family Love and Unity = Engagement x Gifts x Time

Oskar’s despair was a function of the love he felt thanks to his father’s engagement with their mutual gifts over time.

In our lives, we all seem to strive for love—both giving and receiving it. We can get to love through engagement via systems of gifts—or unique people offerings—over time. 

You can add systems to “get to” engagement. You know your gifts and the others around you. But beware: You simply don’t have control over time.

Daldry’s film reawakened my personal awareness toward the one factor that contributes to family love and unit that I can’t control so easily: Time.

Read other posts by Dennis Rebelo

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Comments and Discussions


I played hide and seek and read a book to my 6 year old tonight and he happily told me that he had the best night ever..... As we all work hard and have many responsibilites I am thankful for the friendly reminder from Dennis that TIME spent is more important to be quality TIME.... Thank you DR.

Additional thoughts, added context and conscious choices

Steve & All,

Let me add some context about "time." Steve we cannot control it; it unfolds without prejudice. I think, however, your point supports what I believe in and the core point - "time allocation" is a choice, and one that helps create a life full of meaning.

Meaningful living is felt beyond our physical presence (in the movie's message) and in our lives-right? To be full or overflowing with meaning helps create "meaning" afterglow or residence, a narra-print (narrative print) of positivity and goodness.

Steve, even as we live today, my afterglow of memories of my son Alex playing catcher, or my daughter Abby fetching a 1200 pound horse is my narra-print of goodness...of meaning.

I am glad I am deciding to honor time's lack of a pause button and glad that this movie and the accompanying equation may guide audiences (watchers and readers) to become increasingly conscious of family matters.

Warms regards from chilly San Francisco,


As I read Dennis' article, it also brings to mind my own family. We made a decision, a long time ago, to focus on being a family, not an easy fete in a military family. That meant choices based on location, friends, family, even needs of individuals rather than career.

In this world, have we made our choices based on love? on commitment to the ones who are our connections and love in this world. Have I made it my job to connect to my family.. including giving time to them?

Time is the one thing that is always in my mind and how can I give them more.

Good thoughts, Dennis. It's always better to be reminded before there is a tragedy.

Some deep and disturbing

Some deep and disturbing points are made here. "Letting the Days Go By" is so easy to do. Sounds like the way we accumulate wealth, too: Amount Saved X Return X Time ... can't get back lost time.

Time and Engagement Types ....and Gifts


To disturb or unsettle is good right? As I read your note I thought of how time in financial and family investing is a tough concept for persons to grapple with, until the well is empty - with respect to family members being there (alive) or in the financial world just the same when the pot is empty. It does seem like our left hemispheres seems to dominate though. If we can connect the 2 logic and meaning then whether we are discussing time or money allocations, sense-making is easier to achieve.

Engagement (at a distance - like this post) is vital, but without gifts - what's achieved?

Engagement is multiplied in my equation times gifts, thus is gifts are 0 then the entire formula fails. So perhaps numbers and emotions can be connected, and are relational.

The goal in any activity related to this concept of "Family Love & Unit" is to avoid the 0, hence the fragility of the equation.

Okay, now let's return to the movie. Without meaningful engagement young Oskar would have not feel unified after his father's tragic, sudden death; unity was made possible because of numbers in the positive in each one of the categories.
So perhaps Steve's point about time can be re-discussed. After all, if you make your numbers "count" for "engagement" and "gifts" and "time," their forced-multiplier effect is quite compelling,

But, since we can chose the engagement, engagement type (gifts orientation of self and others) and time allocation - let's simply do it!

Peace to you,

Well constructed Dennis,

Well constructed Dennis, however I have to disagree with you regarding your final statements on time. I believe we all have control over time, but most of us don’t have the courage to take that control. It is the most precious of resources, yet most of us squander it regularly. How often do you hear people say: I wish I had the time… or I’d do it but I don’t have the time… yet those same people will sleep late, spend hours watching TV or playing video games or engaging in other activities that contribute nothing to their own or their family’s lives.
To add another ‘shameless plug’ to your article, how about: “Just do it” ? or, to quote some personal friends who spent a year cruising on their sailboat in the Bahama Islands: “Why wait ? Live now.” For Family love and unity to = Engagement x Gifts x Time, it is necessary to have the determination and courage to make the right decisions on how one spends their time. Engagement is a direct function of Time. If Time=0, then Engagement = 0. Make the time, and engagement is a natural result, which is a true gift in itself.

Warm Equation

Thanks for this perspective on the family dynamics in a systems perspective. I enjoyed reading and reflecting on my own four children--now all grown--to whom I am inexplicably connected for all time.

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