Author Topic: DM23  (Read 2331 times)

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Offline Daen

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« on: February 25, 2022, 07:00:33 PM »
Daen's Musings #23
So I've been thinking a lot about my childhood lately. Specifically the literature I read growing up, and how it influenced me. In my interview I describe stories like the tale of Sundiata, and Watership Down, and Lord of the Rings, but of course those aren't the only ones.

A lot of it was Christian literature, which was unsurprising given my parents' job, and the nature of the boarding school I went to. One series that was particularly important was the Kingdom Tales trilogy by David and Karen Mains. It's a series of allegorical short stories about a person named Hero (a bit on the nose, I know), and his learning to understand the pastoral Kingdom in which he finds himself. Eventually he returns to the urban environment he was born into, and participates in a resistance against the evil Enchanter who rules it. One of the things that really struck me was a story early on in which the main female character hides a dragon egg away, and hatches it in secret. The dragon is cute at first, but rapidly grows into a firebreathing danger to everyone. The caretakers of the Kingdom work to contain the fire, but refuse to harm the dragon. When asked why, they say she would hate them if they killed her pet. Only she can do it, which she eventually does.

The idea of personal responsibility is important to instill into kids. If you make a mess, you clean it up. If you say something hurtful, you need to recognize that and apologize. If you harm someone, even unintentionally, it's your responsibility to try and redress that damage. That was a new concept to me, back then.

A book called the Wump World by Bill Peet also was a favorite of mine. It describes gentle, grass-eating creatures whose world is taken over and destroyed by (again, on-the-nose-named) creatures called Pollutians. Not only did I learn early on about the dangers of pollution and environmental damage, but I also developed a fascination with the South American capybara (who the Wumps look similar to).

Max Lucado was a big influence as well. Especially his story of Punchinello, which I heard very early on. In it, a race of wooden people called Wemmicks live in a social hierarchy. I didn't remember the name of the people very well, so I just remembered them as puppets in my head. From what I did remember, Punchinello was one of these puppets, who was living his puppet life as normal. In his society, people put stickers on each other: always either a star sticker or a dot sticker. It was their way of expressing approval or disapproval. If you liked someone, or thought highly of their behavior, you gave them a star. If someone did something you couldn't abide by, you put a dot sticker on them. Over time, people would cluster with each other, with lots of star-studded individuals in groups that they felt comfortable with, and dot-covered ones with each other as well.

Then Punchinello meets a female puppet (Wemmick, I know), who doesn't have a single sticker on her. Not one. He's intrigued by this, and asks her how she does that. I remember that especially. She said that whenever someone put a star on her, or a dot, it just fell to the ground. They didn't stick at all.

That was an important lesson to me, especially at that young age. The idea that it doesn't really matter what others think of you, and that you don't have to wear public approval or disapproval as you live your life, was quite comforting. Especially given how introverted I ended up being. I carried that message as I grew up, and I think it was a good message to have.

Then I read the story again as an adult, just for nostalgia's sake. I discovered that the story Lucado was telling was actually quite different than the one I'd picked up as a kid.

In the story, the Wemmicks were created by a man named Eli. The female Wemmick was called Lucia (I suspect a subconscious choice, from the man named Lucado). I'd thought she was unmarked because she realized it didn't matter what her fellow people thought of her, and lived her life proudly and happily as a result. In truth, she tells Punchinello that the reason her stickers won't stay on is because she went to see Eli. The power isn't within her at all, nor is it in Punchinello or any of the others. All the power is with Eli.

When Punchinello goes to meet his maker, it becomes clear that only Eli's opinion matters, and only when Punchinello realizes that Eli loves him, do his stickers start to fall off.

It's clearly a Biblical analogy, with the Wemmicks being us, and Eli being God. And the difference between what I remembered as a kid, and the full reading of the story may seem trivial, but it did stick with me, pardon the pun.

The part of my brain that's obsessed with writing a good plot was spinning at this point. There was so much to work with here! Wasn't there a pretty big plot hole in Punchinello's tale? I mean, if all that mattered was Eli's opinion, then why did any stickers stay on at all? Why didn't one Wemmick put a sticker on another, and because Eli loved that Wemmick, it just fell off right away? Clearly, the opinions of the Wemmicks mattered at least a little. Otherwise Punchinello wouldn't have had to go see Eli in order to start shedding these disapprovals people had placed on him.

For that matter, doesn't Eli bear responsibility for the actions of the Wemmicks? I mean Punchinello suffered because of how he was treated by the others. As an introvert who didn't have many friends growing up, I got a slight taste of that myself, but what about a black kid going to a mostly-white school? What about a gay person realizing that early on, and being terrified of coming out? What about a trans person? They all suffer because of public disapproval, just like Punchinello did in the story. Is Eli just... indemnified to that suffering, simply because he's their creator?

(It's a parallel, you see, to how God lets bad things happen to good people. I also just like how the word indemnify sounds.)

From what I remembered, I had the power. I could choose for myself how much what people said or did meant to me. I could choose to live happily and proudly like the female puppet did.

Reading the story again as an adult was disturbing to me. In the story, it didn't matter what I thought, or wanted, or feared. ALL that mattered was the creator's wishes. The only reason I could live proudly and freely was because he wished it. I'm not a slave to my fellow people's opinions... I'm a slave to my creator.

I think that's the biggest problem I have with organized religion. How what I thought was a hopeful, child-encouraging tale, was actually a message of subservience. Not of equality, or fearlessness, or pride in oneself, but of obedience to a higher power.

If there was an individual I could interact with, speak with, who called himself God, I'd probably be more inclined to follow His instructions. If He demonstrated the power described in the Bible, I'd probably worship Him. But there is no person here who can speak with me directly. I have a book to read, ostensibly written by Him. I have various pastors and priests and congregations, who claim to know what He wants. But I have nothing but second-hand information, and I'm told to accept that as enough. I'm told to have faith in that which I cannot see.

Here's what I do see.

I've seen how the faith of my family, of my parents, has inspired them. I've seen how much meaning and joy it gives them, and I'm grateful for that. I've also seen how the faith of other people has inspired them to use that faith as a weapon. How they've used it to sit in judgement over others, and to feel better about themselves by doing so. I've seen how people very similar to Punchinello are beaten down, sometimes very literally, by people who genuinely believe that doing so is right and righteous.

I dodged a bullet growing up (figuratively). I misunderstood Lucado's story as he intended to tell it, and got a message of self-empowerment and courage instead. That influenced me to become who I am, and who I am urges people to take my accidental success and build on it. If you are raising kids, expose them to the message I got, not the one that was intended. That applies not just to Lucado, but to any religious text or speaker you know.
« Last Edit: July 22, 2022, 03:35:15 AM by Daen »