“The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”
So shouts Chicken Little, aka Henny Penny, after being struck atop the head by what he thought was a piece of the sky. It turns out that it was nothing more than an acorn, but Chicken Little hadn’t been out much. He was inexperienced in the world of deciduous trees and the effects of gravity upon said trees.
Published in Boston as early as 1840, this centuries old fable accents its central character’s preposterous behavior by naming the secondary characters with nonsensical rhyming names.
Turkey Lurkey is my favorite, but the other barnyard creatures include Foxy Woxy and Loosey Goosey (both obviously named in an era before sexual promiscuity was glamorized and/or precocious adolescents greeted every possible lewd term with a nervous giggle).
All in all, it’s a grand bunch of simple-minded animals that almost get eaten by Foxy Woxy, as he takes advantage of Chicken Little’s manufactured hysteria and leads the group of barnyard fowls to his home for a succulent feast for one. In grand fashion, Mr. Woxy demonstrates the classical political strategy of using every crisis to advance one’s own interest.
In the end, the animals are spared. Somehow, they find the courage to break free from Foxy’s clutches. Puzzling turn of events, really; if they were too fearful and stupid to recognize that the sky wasn’t falling, how did they suddenly become brave and wise enough to escape Mr. Woxy’s stewpot?
Oh, right, now I remember. This story wasn’t written by The Brothers Grimm, or any of the other storytellers from the 17th and 18th centuries. Here’s a link to some of the real versions of the stories that Disney sanitized for the sensitive modern palate:
Which begs the question (at least it does to me. And since I’m writing this blog post, I’ll beggar whatever query compels me):
Why were those olde tyme fairy tales so morbid? So violent? So gruesome?
Methinks those stories were simply a reflection of the world in which they were written. A dark, miserable existence for most people, life in the 1600’s and 1700’s was filled with discomfort, perpetual illness, rampant infant death, poor personal hygiene, and that most wretched of conditions: stunted growth. Not only were most of the people sickly and likely to die before age 50, they were really short. According to the highly esteemed source below, men averaged 5’5” during the 17th and 18th centuries.
So, now you are begging the question (if you are still reading), what is the point of this blog?
Let’s cut to the chase. The bottom line is modern Western society has far too many lines in its collective bottom. Wrinkled and rumpled, fat and satisfied, sitting on our haunches without fear or danger, we live in an era of never before seen prosperity and as a consequence, safety.
Oh, I can hear the bleeding hearts now. “Are you nuts, Derek? There are all kinds of problems in the world. People starving. Why, 1 out of every 1.7 people don’t know where their next meal is going to come from! Teenage unemployment is at an all-time high!” (Well, that makes sense, since compulsory education was instituted in the 1930’s. Kids don’t have the chance they used to in the good ol’ days. You know, working as a chimney sweep or dancing with other orphans during the 5 minute break at the brick factory.)
“Haven’t you seen the commercials?” I can hear people asking. “There are real live dogs sitting in cages, begging for a family. Can’t you hear Sarah McLachlan crying out?”
Yes, I can. Thank you for asking. It’s hard to escape her mournful wailing. In the arms of…
I could never do it justice. Here she is, one more time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gspElv1yvc
I’m not advocating eating dogs and cats. (Although, my college math professor from Taiwan said that Doberman was a very tasty breed) And, I’m not advocating cruelty to any of God’s creatures.
But, have you stopped to even consider – we are so blessed to actually have charities? Multi-million dollar tax exempt organizations. For animals. I bet those people in the 1600’s were only thinking one thing when it came to animals: FOOD.
My point is this. We have such a remarkably safe, long life in the US and the Western world we don’t really have a clue when something truly tragic happens. Which is why our language is filled with sensational hyperbole and our behavior is tinged with exaggerated emotions when minor difficulties arise.
Our media runs around 24 hours a day, seven days a week, searching for the next manufactured crisis, just like Henny Penny. In reality, in comparison to the life experience of most people throughout history, and a lot of people alive today, our version of tragedy is an acorn on the noggin.
The truth is, if you live in the modern Western world, you have a life that is more secure, informed, free and convenient than 99% of all the people who have ever lived. If you live in the modern Western world, you are extraordinarily blessed. Compared to the lives of billions who have come and gone, we are all the 1%.
Here’s some examples to demonstrate my point:
Did you know that only 31% of children in Ethiopa today attend elementary school?
Did you know catheters were made of stone in the Middle Ages?
Did you know 20-40 million people died from the FLU between 1914-1920?
Did you know the female literacy rate in the US in 1851 was 55%?
I could go on and I’m sure I will in the future. If you really want to read some perspective of real tragedy, check out this book:
The sky is falling? I don’t think so. We’ve got it good. Real good. Wouldn’t it be novel if we introduced perspective and gratitude to our culture? Just a thought.