I’ve always loved reading fairy tales, fables, folktales, and mythology. I’m fascinated by the stories these ancient people made to explain what they didn’t understand. These myths reveal a lot about the people’s world view who told the stories, and their experiences. Vastly preferred to reading a dry, old history book, I love how these stories illustrate what it was like to live during that time.
While I like the classic Greek and roman gods most of us are familiar with, I also love the stories from many different cultures. Like the stories of Anansi, the trickster spider god of West Africa, who uses mischievous cunning to get him out of tough scrapes. And Odin, the All-Father of Norse mythology, ripped out his own eye to drink from well of cosmic knowledge to gain wisdom and knowledge of things hidden from him. Every culture has these kinds of stories.
As I’ve read these stories from many different cultures, what’s hit me like a ton of bricks is that the themes and lessons are nearly identical no matter where these tales originate. They reinforce society’s values that were important enough to create cautionary tales and heroic tomes. The biggest of these themes is the fight for dominance between good and evil.
The myths reinforce the importance of always trying to do what is right, with heroic deeds and noble morality even when it’s complicated. Good deeds are rewarded in a quest for justice, and evil deeds are punished. There are real repercussions for being too prideful and narcissistic. The importance and love of family, beyond everything else, is what brings intrepid travelers home and inspires sacrifices made to keep loved ones safe.
As I’m watching what’s going on in our country and listening to talk of civil war, I wonder – when did we lose sight of these values? There is so much divisiveness that families and longtime friends can no longer come together. The differences are too broad to cross. Where once people could agree to disagree for the sake of a relationship, it seems these differences are no longer be tolerated.
Civil discourse and the ability to even discuss what we disagree about have all but disappeared. The thought that people who see things differently than us are “evil” makes us want to quiz people about where they stand before we even consider getting to know them.
Bullying and hate crimes are becoming the rule of the land rather than the exception. Far too common now are death threats against public figures and “Ken and Karen” vigilantes that think it’s their right to tell everyone else how to act, even though they don’t want to be told how to behave themselves. If I didn’t know better and weren’t surrounded by so many good people in our community, I’d think empathy and kindness were all but dead.
I genuinely believe we are purposely being torn apart and that there are factions responsible for that. It seems evident with all the misinformation and conspiracy theories being passed around. We’re seeing the idea that “if a lie is told often enough, people will believe it” proved true. I’m not sure what the originators of these lies have to gain, besides a sick perversion of seeing everything burn to the ground. I certainly don’t want to see that. I’ll bet you don’t either.
How do you even know if you’re on the side of good or evil right now? Lots of people are having a hard time telling the difference. I blame this on “self-righteousness,” the conviction that our beliefs and behaviors are the MOST correct and everyone else is doo-doo. It’s feeling morally superior to people who don’t live by the same beliefs and rulebook and trying to convince ourselves and others that we are
the ones doing the right thing. This leads to “moral outrage,” which is much more about our tender sensibilities being offended than justice.
Each of us is responsible for stopping this division. I used to hate it when one of my bosses would say “look within” when I told her I was unhappy about something. But, of course, no one wants to hear that! Still, that is what’s required. Rather than letting our brains flood with moral outrage, we need to practice calm to see what the situation truly is and how, for the most part, we’re all the same – just trying to do the best we can to create a good life for ourselves and loved ones.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have been thinking a lot lately about healing. The only way we can heal is by coming together, accepting that we won’t agree on all things, and going on a quest to find the things we can agree on.
Here’s what I’m working on:
I have some moral outrage stored up with a family member I saw over Christmas. I felt slighted by this person a long time ago, which turned me against them. I’ve been unyieldingly holding on to that experience ever since. This person is getting old, has obvious cognitive issues, and doesn’t seem to know what’s going on now, let alone in the past. So I decided it was time to lighten up and give that person some grace.
Let Go of the Past
Giving this person grace is more for me than for anyone else. Holding on to that tension isn’t healthy for anyone, and it holds us in the past. Letting go and moving on feels so much better. Surrendering isn’t just about giving up worry.
For me, giving grace is a precursor to forgiveness, especially when I haven’t been asked for it by the person I feel slighted me. I’m still working on that. Forgiveness is a big part of moving on. Most important is to remember to forgive yourself too – for whatever reason feels right, like waiting until this person was incapable of having a conversation so we can clear the air between us.
Keep communication open
When communication is open, we can calmly talk about the slights and often clear them up. Unfortunately, sometimes emotions cloud how we hear what the other person says. Maybe we read intentions into words that were never part of the conversation the other person was having. The most effective way to understand is to talk about it. It’s not necessarily easy, but the more we genuinely listen and try not to snap to moral outrage, the stronger our bond.
One word of caution: Communicating with toxic people rarely helps you. Some people may intentionally take advantage of your good graces and use this to hurt you. Shut down these communications. You’ll know who they are because of how you feel about yourself when they’re around, and even though you’ve tried, nothing changes. If you need to talk to them, draw a picture and tell them everything you need them to know, which may or may not include forgiveness today.
Life is Short
What would you say to someone if you knew it was the last time you would ever see them? What would you ask them? What old grievances do you have to clear up? Do it now. If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s shown us that we never know when or if we’ll see someone again. So don’t wait until it’s too late. A tough conversation is not worth the regret of words upspoken.
Value Each Other
Like it or not, we are who we are because of the people we’ve been close to in our lives. The history and experiences we share are more precious than we realize. But, making peace isn’t always easy since they also know how to push all the buttons, because as my baby brother says, “They’re the ones that put them there.”
Still, with people we have a history with, there are memories - of an extraordinary kindness, laughing so hard the tears ran down our leg, wild adventures we lived to tell about, tears dried, and even the feeling of being together without having to say a word. These are precious moments – and I’m not talking about the figurines.
We see everything and everyone through our own biases and beliefs. What if we could put on different shades to see beyond our reality to truly empathize with each other? What if we took a closer look at our moral outrage?
It is up to us to stop divisiveness in our own lives if we expect to see it in others. Can you imagine what that would look like?