Matthew Cooke – What if you could win at life?
Matthew Cooke has been working for many years as an actor, film director and writer and his work has also won the Best Writing Award from the International Documentary Association. Matthew has been invited to speak at the University of Texas, NYU and we got lucky to have him at this year’s TEDx conference. We talked with him about inequality, refugees and poverty in the following interview.
What do you think about the refugee situation Europe is coping with right now?
Matthew: I am not familiar with how people are handling it in specific. I understand that it would be controversial but my sense of that is that it is only controversial if you are xenophobic. So in terms of what you do in a situation where there are people that need help is: you help them. And that is the answer. How you do that and what particular infrastructure is needed to be put in place to support people…? I think the one key thing is to recognize, as discussed today at the conference, that refugees are not a dependence that needs assistance only. They are actually human beings who have skills and they can contribute to an economy and there is lots of economic, cultural and human opportunity to be found. This is why welcoming anyone is absolutely correct.
In your TED talk you were talking about poverty. Why did you make it out of poverty, while others for instance did not?
Matthew: You know there are too many people who do not make it out of poverty. On the other side, there are too many people who do claim that there is one universal answer to this. But I would say that as a white male it was easier in the United States for me to get student loans. I had someone who helped me to get student loans, that was my dad, and I was offered more opportunities, probably due to a certain amount of privileges that I was exposed to. I would like to say talent and drive also had something to do with it, but I think that the affirmation you get from being a part of society or perceived as being a part of society, this is what gets you ahead. Sure I have some talents and some skills, however those were greatly supported by the opportunities offered to me by my cultural background.
What do you think does it take to get out of poverty?
Matthew: It takes opportunities and it takes a readiness to seize on those opportunities. It does not happen often. Social mobility is not as great as it once was, particularly in the United States. It takes a miracle.
Is your background and your origin still important to you, now that you have made yourself? Or is it irrelevant?
Matthew: Of course it is relevant to me. It remains a part of who I am, a part of my identity. I think it shaped the issues I am interested in, such as inequality, poverty and social justice. I find those things interesting, because they were part of my life growing up. But I also really believe in the idea that we are all in it together, that human beings are all one big family. Therefore it is up to all of us to be of service to one another. For example, I know lots of people who have not experienced poverty and yet still are very trying their very best to fight inequality.
What advice would you like to give away to people for example in terms of getting out of poverty?
Matthew: In terms of getting out of poverty, you know the one thing to do is to find out what you are passionate about and also, what seems the easiest way for you to make money. I mean it really is a very simple answer. When people are trying to figure out what they should do to make money: do the thing that is right infront of you,if this something you are super passionate about, then pursue it until you can figure out whether you are also good at it. The other thing is try to find a job, be as ressourceful as you possibly can, do not be afraid to reach out for help and try to think outside the box. When I was growing up, I remember being in highschool, feeling like my options were so limited and it was only by enrolling in college and taking out the student loans that the whole world begann to unfold infront me. I cannot explain how different it felt, being in a whole other dimension of possibilities of which existence I was not even aware of. If the place you live in seems limited…go somewhere with more options offered.
How can you find those places?
Matthew: You just have to start exploring. Go on an adventure, take a leap of faith, follow your inner compass, ask for help. Be relentless.
Do you think everybody deserves the same chances?
Matthew: Deserve is a funny word, I think that everybody has value as a human being. Hence everyone ought to be treated with dignity and respect. And everytime we do that for others, we raise ourselves up as human beings. The root of the word “deserve” is to serve, so I think that is what deserve is really all about. I do not deserve to have nicer clothes than somebody else but maybe , if I put on nice clothes, then more people will listen to me and get involved in communicating and helping each other. Each and everyone of us deserves the best.
In order to achieve peace do you think we have to rethink capitalism?
Matthew: Yes. Capitalism is just a mean to an end. The end goal is of course peace, is freedom from suffering, is freedom from being empoverished, being hungry and not having shelter. But then, in order to actually help each other, we have to implement different ways to achieve this goal. This is the way we can reach our full potential als individuals and as a society.