Do you remember your first nightmare?
If the subject comes up, my younger daughter grows quiet and her eyes round. “Remember that nightmare I had? When you read The Little Prince to me?”
Her brother pipes up, “Oh, yeah,” he says with a shiver. “The baobab trees.”
Have you read The Little Prince? If not, do you at least know what a baobab tree looks like? In real life, it is a marvel of nature. But in this plaintive narrative, it is a monster trying to take root in the tiny asteroid planet the little prince came from. It’s a real problem to have trees the size of elephants trying to grow on your planet that is only a little bigger than you. Never mind that the asteroid could not have had an atmosphere; we get to work with the conditions just as this earnest child details them.
That my daughter (age 5 at the time) had a nightmare about this dire situation proves one of the whole points of this book: grown-ups don’t see the seriousness of a child’s plight when all looks well to the adult. I probably thought, “Oh, how precious!” when my daughter choked out the words of her night’s terror the following morning. Even as a survivor of many oddly constructed nightmares myself, I still felt relief that her nightmare was made of fiction. No planet is ever going to be destroyed by the roots of a giant, unwanted plant.
Except that now her nightmare is my own, and I’m watching it take place with eyes wide open.
Sowing distrust is a highly profitable business. Think, at the very least, of the Star-Belly Sneetches. Selling a lie that pits one group against another, leads to a loss of perspective that can destroy the very foundation of what was once common ground. It is just one more line of division to make this suggestion, but it is in the interest of some world powers to watch that common ground slip into confusion, conflict, chaos, and left unchecked, civil war. Just keep the truth in quotations, and it becomes a phantom, a will-o’-the-wisp no one can take hold of anymore.
The more scarce truth seems to be, the more desperately we search for it. We become willing to absorb whatever nourishes that feeling of desperation because, paradoxically, feeling afraid is safer than feeling calm. It allows one to be ready for attack. But does feeling safe, calm, and reassured mean a person has stopped gathering truth and eschewing lies? Or is that simply the result of setting aside fear and replacing it with trust?
The answer to that question is why it is so strange to be called a “sheeple” on social media. Not everyone who submits to following government recommendations–like wearing a mask or getting a vaccination to fight COVID–is blindly, weakly following their leader(s). And not everyone against masking or vaccinating is an uninformed rebel. In fact, if those of us able and willing to make these decisions do so in reasoned reassurance, it isn’t because we’re strung out on some opioid of the masses. It’s because we are living according to the truth we’ve found and don’t need reassurance and validation from those around us.
My flock is my heart, mind, and vision. When those instruments align, I follow where they direct me. If I seem to be staring straight ahead as I follow what I believe, and if I forego offense at well-aimed jeers of derision, it’s because I trust my quiet, internal voice more than any deafening external one. I’m not fearful of the world, I’m clear about it.
I wrote a poem [scroll down for a photo of the original] as a sophomore in high school, and I still hold to its tenets. Lies begin as something reassuring; a smooth, cool drink when the heat of emotions gets too uncomfortable. The trouble with a lie is that it needs more and more “hot” emotions to cool, so it fans the flame while claiming to blow it out. What are these hot emotions that feel so uncomfortable that we are willing to nourish them while attempting to extinguish them? Doubt. Anger. Indignation.
But they are secondary emotions. They are the layer of emotion we add to the primary emotion of fear. Meant to rescue us from harm’s way, the ice-cold grip of fear sets off a series of chemical responses in the body that set everything ablaze with focus, intensity, reactivity, and confidence that the threat is clear and present. Even if that means we go looking for that proof ourselves. And what momentary satisfaction it brings to find evidence of danger! Better wrong than dead.
[I didn’t know all that as a youth, but having lived through this unwarranted chain reaction countless times and delving into its mechanics to find healing as an adult, I can tell I was on to something a quarter century ago.]
Lies exist to comfort the comfortable, fuel the furious, and mislead the miserable. They trap us because they feed on the instinct to protect our status quo, to maintain our homeostasis. Even if that status quo is killing us.
And the lies I see far too many people living on are tearing them and our planet apart, a planet who is much tinier than we had ever before suspected. Tiny enough to destroy with a lie but worth enough to save with some trust.
Should we keep this status quo or seek for a better one? Let’s choose our narrative intentionally today. Live by what brings internal validation, and then be a peacemaker from that place. Rebuild common ground and a sustainable foundation. Reach outward to spread hope after nourishing it within. Triumph over evil by letting trust in goodness take root again.
And keep trying even if your hope for enjoying the fruits of your labor are dashed repeatedly. Maybe the reward of fertilizer today is a better garden tomorrow.
[This post’s excerpt from the poem/hymn by John Jaques]