Monday, November 4, 2013

What can we learn from old folk tales?

Back in 1917, Marie L. Shedlock published a book on storytelling. One of the folk tales she retold was The Folly of Panic, which I've interpretively adapted here:

And it came to pass that the Lord of the Earth was incarnated as an Eagle, able to fly above the Earth and observe all its features and creatures and ensure that all was well in the domain below.

And the Earth was filled with creatures: There were Bears to the north, Elephants in the jungles, Camels crossing the deserts, and all across the prairies of the world, there were Hares.

Eagle and Hare -

One spring, a nervous little Hare, who was always afraid that something dreadful was going to happen, began to fret: "Suppose the Earth were to fall in, what would happen to me?"

She repeated this so often that it became her a mantra. "The Earth might fall in; what would happen to me?" She said it until at last she thought it really would happen.

One day, as she recited her mantra again, she heard a slight noise: a heavy fruit had fallen upon a rustling leaf. But the little Hare was so nervous she was ready to believe anything, and she gasped: "The Earth is falling in!"

She ran as fast as she could to warn the world. First she told those closest to her, and soon all the Hares knew the Earth was falling in. They shared their knowledge wide and far to all who would listen, and quickly the deer, the sheep, and the buffalo, all took up the cry.

In the North, the Bears became concerned for their homes, and in the jungles the Elephants began to grow uneasy, and even the Camels looked across their expanse of desert and worried it might be so. But the wise Eagle, flying above it all, looked down and wondered at the uproar. "There are no signs," he said, "of the Earth falling in. I must investigate."

The Eagle methodically tracked the rumors back to the little Hare and asked her, "What made you say that the Earth was falling in?"
Now, as you undoubtedly know, the tale ended with discovery that her panic was misplaced. The Eagle took the little Hare to see that it had merely been a fruit falling upon a leaf that set off her fear, and they were able to determine that the Earth was not falling in and to reassure the populace. But what if their findings had been different?

What if, upon examination, the Eagle had learned that it wasn't the weight of growing fruits but a noxious poison killing the fruits before their time that was threatening the Earth? What if the Eagle had learned that the Earth might not be caving in but rather dying? The outcome of THAT story would have been different. The Eagle would have been spurred not into reassurance but to a call to action.

The Eagle would have had to rally all the animals together to discover the source of the toxin and to create a magic potion to save their planet.

Updating the Folk Tale
 In today's world, scientists have already identified the toxins poisoning our air. CO2 and methane are damaging the atmosphere; current practices like burning coal and fracking gas and extracting tar sands are threatening the Earth. It's time indeed for someone as powerful as the Eagle to issue that call to action.

If you think that, like the Eagle, our President could bring all the populace together to recognize the dangers and make corrections before it is too late to save our planet, it's time to send out a noisy alert. It's up to people like us – not nervous Hares but informed and concerned citizens – to keep up the cry until it reverberates through the halls of Congress and throughout the world.

You can add your voice: Join Sierra Club or the League of Conservation Voters or any of the other groups raising the alert. Panic is certainly folly, but so is ignoring reality.

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