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I was challenged by my friends to make sense of the tradition of myths. We all generally remember myths as coming down from the ancient Greeks, Romans and other folks who were closer to oral traditions. Generally these were short stories that explained something to us in a memorable way, using simple but vivid imagery so they were easy to remember and pass on to others. Good ones were like memes and they stuck in our minds like a picture of a howling wolf on our living room wall.

Wolf on hill overlooking village

Wolf on hill overlooking village. I couldn’t identify the painter, but cleaned it a bit.

The myths were easily accessible reminders of how we ought to behave. At least that was what I was thinking until I actually started reading Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tails, and collections of old folk tales. My spouse has been reading these stories to me as bedtime snoozers for months; they are anything but soporific for an intellectually rationalizing old man. What was shocking, and prevented sleep, in this rehash of these children’s stories is how violent they are, and how the supposedly good people commit vicious crimes against the people defined as bad. The bad people are easy to identify because they are, old, or ugly, or have something valuable, or are an older sibling, or are associated with someone who has those failings. Good people can be almost anyone but they are those who help us kill the bad people and take their stuff.

After reading, actually rehearing, these immoral morality myths I am surprised at how moral most people grow up to become. Nowadays, kids get their myths from TV, computers, games and portable media, but I suspect the totality of their input is basically the same as the old myths. In other words it is horrible behavior, to the  extreme, but somehow they survive it all and turn into good people. Strange isn’t it?

What is it in all that, that is useful for our daily lives? I used to think the newspaper and the other media were providing information for our daily lives, but last week’s post, What is NEWS? What is it good for?, shattered that for me. After reading that, it seemed reasonable to put at the top of every newspaper, the number of people who died today. On average the top line, in the decorative banner, would read something like, 205,479 people on Earth died today. The reason for such a stark banner-line is that it would put into perspective all of the stories they posted as All the News that’s fit to print. Our daily myth, the one that is of mythic proportions, is that the media conveys something valuable to us.

What would probably help most people is to study the more realistic approaches handed down to us from ancient oral traditions, like the fox who couldn’t reach the luscious looking grapes. His conclusion: they are probably sour anyway, or the farmers would have taken them. That sounds like a laugh, but the advice taken away is not to worry too much about what others have, or have rejected, because in a world of infinite desire getting what you think you want doesn’t satisfy you for long, but only whets your need for even more difficult things to seek. Until you find something you can’t get and then you feel miserable with desire.

Since desires are infinite, seek contentment. Contentment can increase infinitely.