“Do you guys have a mascot?”
“Like a terrier? — He’s a bear? That’s why you guys like Dwight so much!”
After hours of waiting in a long line outside HUB 302 last Tuesday evening, a packed crowd of students and Inland Empire residents were greeted by Rainn Wilson, former star of “The Office,” and creator of the media company SoulPancake. After finding out our mascot name and sarcastically jabbing at how a Bruin sounds much more intimidating than a bear named Scotty, Wilson struck some emphatic poses for those he saw holding up smartphones. Then, however, it was down to business, as Wilson gave an autobiographical and thought-provoking talk about how his upbringing and his life journey led him to found SoulPancake.
“I would say that the only thing we all have in common in this room is that someday we will all be dead,” Wilson said. “It’s interesting because you talk about death and people get very freaked out. In our culture, talking about death is not a kosher topic to bring up, you bring it up at party and you’ll clear the room.”
Stemming from this, Wilson talked honestly about his fall from and return to his religion, and how it affected his spirituality (“I hate that word!” Wilson said) and way of living.
His change came, he explained, after he accomplished all he wanted by becoming a working actor and being married to a great wife — but he still felt like something was missing. His time in New York had made him cynical and precipitated his departure from his faith. He looked back on a time when he and some of his roommates (who were also actors) discussed the artistic ethics of acting for a commercial. “Maybe I would do a commercial,” one of them said, “But only for soy milk!”
All his material desires weren’t fulfilling him, he said, and trying to find meaning in people and the way they interact and how we can help each other, gave him a fuller sense of worth. SoulPancake’s mission is herein found in this way of thinking: “Let’s just get people talking about big ideas just so people can use this as a tool to go on their spiritual journey, because that spiritual journey starts with asking life’s big questions,” Wilson said toward the end of the talk.
Wilson went on to speak about the various programs, such as Metaphysical Milkshake, Kid President and My Last Days that SoulPancake has produced. My Last Days showcases several people who have been given terminal diagnoses, and follows them and their journey toward death while showcasing the different emotions they go through and how they handle their last days(usually some kind of surprise is included for them as well).All these programs made people think about life in ways out of the cultural norm, and attempted to make thinking about life in different ways accessible for a much larger amount of people.
After the crowd of entranced students was charmed by Wilson’s humorous anecdotes and ways of talking about heavy subjects, a Q-and-A session was allowed for around 15 crowd members. Questions ranged from the meaning of life to what Wilson finds difficult to talk about (if not death). Students thankfully avoided most “Office” related questions, though one question connected to “The Office” and his character’s love of “Battlestar Galactica” to how each of those shows, and to specifically one “Battlestar Galactica” species theories, influences his own spirituality. Wilson also pointed out his gratefulness for people he has helped give comfort to through “The Office,” as their gratefulness in turn made him feel like what he was doing was worth it.
Wilson concluded the night by saying how this crowd had asked some of the best questions he had heard from a group and partially redeemed his earlier jabbings by exclaiming “Go Scotty the Bear!” A buzz could be felt walking out of the event, as Wilson certainly invigorated a sense of deeper thinking and inspiration to the departing sea of minds.