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Myths and Pretty Stories

“Like the elite of ancient Egypt, most people in most cultures dedicate their lives to building pyramids. Only the names, shapes and sizes of these pyramids change from one culture to the other. They may take the form, for example, of a suburban cottage with a swimming pool and an evergreen lawn, or a gleaming penthouse with an enviable view. Few question the myths that cause us to desire the pyramid in the first place.” – Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

We all build pretty stories, latch on to myths that align us with a currency, political party, and what we chase in our short time on earth. Since I reached “responsible” adulthood I’ve been servant to my pyramid in New Hampshire, my second pyramid, thank you. I’ve done my part to keep both the economy and humankind going by getting married and having two children, a boy and a girl, to keep the party going after I someday check out.

Sapiens challenges long-standing assumptions we have about our place in the world: how we got here, what we believe, what we’ve destroyed in the process of getting here and what is being destroyed now as a result of the myths and pretty stories we collectively tell ourselves. And that’s the part that I’ve been thinking about lately. We’ve all seen what collective belief in a myth can do on September 11, 2001 and on January 6, 2021. There’s a very dark side of humanity that emerges when subscribing to certain myths. And there’s a swell of resistance that rises up when confronted with myths that don’t fit our own view of the world.

It may come as no surprise to any reader of this blog that I’m a romanticist, chasing experiences in this short life. And yet like many of my fellow romanticists I’ve also built a pyramid. And keep adding smaller pyramids around it to make this life more… comfortable? Luxurious? Sure. But every myth has a price, and to function in this society your story needs to align with the larger story of paying mortgages and car payments and working to fund it all.

We humans are complicated, aren’t we? Life is about the pretty stories we tell ourselves. About where we are and where we’re going. We all tell ourselves and others these stories. I tell myself that I’m chasing washboard abs, but still managed to have a third taco last night. Now I’m planning a long walk and yard work to make up for the three tacos. Washboard abs are just another pretty story I tell myself if I don’t align my habits with the larger goal.

As an American I grew up believing certain things about our Rights as citizens. We buy into the belief that all men and women are created equal. Over time you learn this is a myth, we aren’t at all equal. Some are dealt tougher hands than others. Some drink the Kool-Aid of scarcity and fear and react to that with aggression and hate. In sharp contrast, may of us subscribe to something bigger. A belief in each other and a better future.

“Well, big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Oh, meet me in a land of hope and dreams”
– Bruce Springsteen, Land of Hope and Dreams

Inevitably there’s friction and chafing when one person’s myths run into another’s opposing myths. We live in a dangerous time, and a lot depends on how the pendulum swings during our watch. Like Springsteen I’m an eternal optimist, but recognize that’s just the way we frame our pretty stories. Like washboard abs and too many tacos, sometimes pretty stories and reality don’t align and you’ve got to recognize that and commit to changing the story.

We all have to work for the pyramids we are building towards the sky. It’s fair to question whether we’re building the right pyramid in the first place. Isn’t it?

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