If you belonged to a species that regularly threw itself off a cliff, you’d expect that species – or that tribe – to die out pretty quickly…
Let’s imagine that there was an annual contest of head-beating with sticks, and the losers – those left alive – were honour bound to march or stagger to the cliff-top and mumble a ceremonial farewell before casting themselves off the edge.
From the outside, the problem is pretty plain to see, and it has a repeating pattern: The issue occurs annually; the initial problem is honouring the ‘game’ that allows sticks to be used as weapons. Then there are the people who promote the annual gladiatorial spectacle, but, personally, avoid the cliff tops at all costs. They make a better living providing the best sticks; and avoid the annual self-cull by living in fine houses in the hills. The producers of fine sticks have a statistical problem – they don’t want too many people to die or the market for fine sticks will diminish and they’ll end up fighting among themselves, which could be very short-lived…and they like life in the hills.
One day a man in a white robe comes along and teaches that this cyclic suffering is not inevitable. He teaches that there is enough in this wonderful world to go around. He says that all it takes is for everyone to agree on that and people will be able to live creative, caring and industrious lives. All we have to do is look after each other and recognise that differences dissolve when we talk… And try to see things from each other’s point of view.
It boils down to this: that all we have to do is to say, “This is my problem.”
Some of the people listening get it. The problem is learning, which the man in the white robe knows. He makes up clever stories that can be interpreted on different levels. At the basic level, the stories are of faith in something deeper. At the deeper levels, the same stories reveal the inner workings of the human soul. He knows that the makers of fine sticks control learning so that only a few get the finest teachings of how to perpetuate success – in making fine sticks.
The people who make fine sticks don’t like the man in the white robe or his kind. It would end their customer base overnight. So they take their best-educated minds and teach them to sew the seeds of distrust of such people-centric thinking, saying that it will kill off the tribe’s need for success, which is so much a part of their cultural inheritance. The makers of fine sticks are specialists in reaching into the hearts and minds of the least-educated parts of the tribe and whipping up energy and hatred. Some of their brightest children create other stories to counter the ones given by the man in the white robe.
The man in the white robe is put to death in a very public and painful way. But his teachings were popular, so the makers of fine sticks extract what he said into a new system of thought – one that they can control using the power of collective ignorance, fear, and not thinking-for-yourself. They teach the most violent of the least educated to rise up against people in any kind of white robe because they are a threat to their fine way of life.
Then they get back to making the next generation of fine sticks so that most of the money of the tribe comes back to them.
One night soon the moon will be at its most full. The good earth will be ripe with its bounty. The annual ritual of head-beating will begin. This year, the makers of fine sticks have introduced a new feature: they are letting children have small sticks so that they can join in this contest. Children can so easily be taught hatred; and fighting comes naturally to the poor ones who have to fight because all the money has gone to the makers of fine sticks.
As the heads are crushed the moon will sigh that the gift of intelligence serves this, and the earth will weep and collect their blood. The survivors on the losing tribe will stagger to the cliff top to swear allegiance to this noble rite, then throw themselves off… and all will be well for the makers of fine sticks who are far away in the hills.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.
A fine parable, Steve!
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Thank you, Michael. I felt we’d see eye to eye on that…