Friday, June 23, 2006


While I was attending a public high school, a popular song came out that insisted "everybody wants to rule the world." I wasn't very pleased with it. I knew I didn't want to rule the whole world. I wouldn't want to have to account to God for it! Most of my fellow students agreed that it was pretty silly to think that everyone had delusions of grandeur...the first week.

It was interesting to watch the effect this chant-sounding song had on people as the weeks passed, and the radios (& MTV) played it more and more often. I especially remember a good friend who laughed at the song with me the first week, was humming it often three weeks later, and finally debated the 'truth' of it with me (a true convert!) a month or so after that. He had decided that everybody *did* want to rule the world, and insisted he'd come to this conclusion on his own and not because he was listening to a message to that effect day in and day out. I may say it had a deleterious effect on his character. The guys who went for it become snots until they quit listening to it so much.

What made me different? My faith? Perhaps. But I was always a different kid, so much so that several friends and relations insisted I was an 'old soul.' (God made it plain eventually that He made me like I am). So some of my resistence to modern humanism may be a natural gift from my Maker, but I was also blessed to take breaks from popular culture while growing up. My earliest years included exposure to the ARE crowd in Virginia Beach, but I rarely saw Sesame Street. Some years I attended public school and sometimes I was in private situations, including a cottage homeschool system in N.C. that I still remember fondly. We ate from our gardens & organic co-ops whenever possible. We had a tv at home (purchased when I was nearly 7), but it stayed off for much of my childhood. I had the chance to know gentle back-to-the-Earthers, Mennonites, Messianics, Jesus Freaks, and other counter-culture folks. I learned to read books for fun. I observed nature myself, without another's interpretation coloring everything I saw. Most of all, I had time to think and encouragement in forming opinions all my own. I had no idea how blessed I was in this!

& I still remember the shock of kids who couldnt believe I didn't regularly watch the latest shows or want the latest toys (a lot of them were really stupid- this was the 70's.)

Why were they shocked at my lack of interest in such ephemerals?

I was really glad I liked Star Wars. That gave me some common ground to continue speaking to those who apparantly had nothing else in their lives to discuss (that they valued). Their worlds were full of oft-repeated ads, idolized images, and injunctions ~ mantras saying buy this, eat that, play with these, believe this, and you'll be fashionable/popular/on the road to success! Some of these would be true (eat your veggies and you'll be healthier) and others were... advertising.

By way of gentle example:: Remember the Song "Its a Small World After All?" Many of us actually believe that the world IS a small place after all. If you think about it, you know this is silly. The Earth is huge compared with us. It hasn't shrunk in the slightest since our ancestors reflected on the vast expanses that surrounded them. This view (& Disney's song) is a paean to motorized transport, to the relative size of our planet to the enormous hugely hugeness of the heavens beyond, and, most especially, to aircraft travel. But the impossible-to-truly-envision enormity of the universe doesn't make our globe any tinier. Anywhere the connections don't connect or don't go, those ole miles stretch out just like they used to. (Palin's Pole to Pole & Around the World in 80 Days travelogues demonstrate this admirably.) But it meant, you may protest, that we can get there faster and that the cultures of the Earth are much more connected. Yep, flight & cars usually make travel faster, and the nations do know about each other, but in many minds, wherever the song (and slogans like it) have taken root and haven't been critically examined, the ridiculous idea remains that our planet is much smaller than previously thought and that this makes it quicker and easier to get anywhere. The warm-fuzzy variegated global society suggested by Disney's song (among other sources), has yet to materialize as well. The Chinese don't identify with us all that much. Many Europeans disown any 'family' resemblance to Americans quite regularly. Tourists are welcome because they bring money. Globe Trekkers are welcome because they will probably be followed by tourists. Journalists impact the global reputation of the nation. If you, however, trust to a 'family of nations' ethic to keep you safe in other countries... Well, actually, I don't think you are that stupid. Danger does lovely things for causing folks to reconsider what they've been told.

You've been told soooo many things over and over since your early school years. Did you ever notice how often the 'thinking critically' sections of your textbooks were invitations to support the arguments in the chapter? Were you ever encouraged to consider how or whether a theory promoted in your textbooks was true? I wasn't, not in public schools! I still remember the elementary school instructor who screamed at me for better than an hour, and even threatened to flunk me for refusing to say on a multiple choice test that I was a descendant of a primate. I respectfully offered to write an answer that showed I understood the theory, but could not agree with it. This was not good enough. She wanted a statement of faith in her mantra. Until that day and hour I had thought her a fairly reasonable person, despite her earlier irritation when I read my literature book for the year over the weekend. It took the intervention of the church we attended to resolve the situation, and with their help I finished the year in a private academy with religious ties. This turned out to be great news for me. My new Christian tutors allowed me read and think as much as I liked, and my educational deficit (I was lagging well behind my potential) was largely addressed. Who do you think looked more 'progressive' to me? Whose liberality had more credibility?

Did you ever get the 'lifeboat' scenario in middle school? I did, as part of the 'great books' program in another public school. You remember how those went? You were asked to come up with a quick response in round-table discussion (I chose 'pray.') and was then told to write a naturalistic (trans: no God) response to the situation. I wrote that it would be better to risk death than destroy your character by purposely planning to harm others for personal gain. (I was very much into Tolkein & tales of knight errantry at the time and had decided the ideals presented had merit.) I thought hard about my answers, as I was asked to do. I honestly expected my answers to be tossed into the mix as one of many possibilities. Instead my answer was immediately passed over by a decidedly shocked-looking assistant instructor (Later we were told that my reply wasn't included in her teacher's discussion manual and she just didn't know what to say.) My teacher in that place was actually a better person, and didn't try to penalize me academically for speaking my conscience, she just didn't call on me much... Not too bad, except that I actually liked answering questions.

Its so much easier to write what you know others want to hear, isn't it? So much easier to assume the 'experts' have all the answers. It so much easier to believe blindly what you are told. Don't think. Don't make waves. Of course you decided to believe it yourself.... aahh IT* has such a soothing voice!

*from L 'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time"

Remember the high school kids who bought into that song "everybody wants to rule the world?"They'd also insist that no oft repeated song/music video, tv show theme, textbook, or slogan convinced them of what they then believed. Point out that the very phrasings they used came from textbooks or popular culture and all you'd get was a resounding "so what?!?"

Not that people didn't ever disagree, but even then it wasn't unusual to hear conflicting viewpoints reference another literary or pop culture icon ~ like the song above versus Annie Lennox's "sweet dreams are made of this..." ~ rather than their simple personal opinion. My own view ran the other way. I felt their voices counted because these were their personal opinions (however influenced), and these were friends. I cared about them - not the mantras they had accepted.

The earlier the repetition begins, the more certain the individual is that whatever has been told to him/her is a fact, unless they take some time to think over the 'certainties' of their existence. That doesn't often happen before a kid leaves formalized schooling, if it happens at all.

While we were on the road the other day, Tom and I were reflecting on how some people seem to mature rapidly once they leave institutionalized schooling/corporate structures. Why some and not others? Could it be that mantras lose their impact with stronger personalities when not continuously reinforced?

Food for thought anyway.

1 comment:

Mrs. House Mouse said...

Food for thought was delicious!