Mythology’s Best Lesson
Mythology is an important part of every culture. It makes no difference if the story is about Odysseus or if it is about Santa Clause. In essence, all mythology serves the same purpose: to teach us important lessons about life, without the pesky need for direct experience.
Some myths teach us to be brave and persistent. Other myths teach us to be good. But all myths, no matter what time or place they come from, can teach us how to properly deal with disappointment.
For most of us, its not long after we obsess over our first myth that we learn its not real. There are not monsters in Scottish lakes, and the epic Trojan War was probably just a trade dispute. There are a few ways to handle this revelation. Many people choose to go into denial, fervently believing in the absolute reality of their favorite myth. Perhaps you are one of these people. There is a simple test to find out. Just ask yourself what you really think is going on in Roswell, N.M.
Another way to deal with the knowledge that myths are not real is to embrace bitterness. Some people never recover when they learn their favorite stories were made up to frighten, entertain, or worst of all, make a profit. Unable to believe in anything, they feel the urge to spread this malcontent to everyone else. Eventually, they are just a husk, and will probably go on to become serial killers or complain about the Star Wars prequels.
This is an immature reaction. The best way to react when you learn something is not real is with grace. It is extremely disappointing learn there is no Santa. But if you think this means there is no reason to be good, then you clearly missed the point of the myth in the first place.
When we don’t ignore it, or allow it to crush us, we can actually benefit from disappointment. So what if Santa isn’t real? I’m gonna be good anyway. Screw Santa.
In this way, the inherent disappointment built into all mythology is not only a lesson, but also a test.
So too it is in real life. As we go on and get older, we realize many of the things we believe in may not be exactly real. Not trivial things like monsters and invincible heroes. But important things. Things like justice, and security.
We are brought up to believe that the world is fair, but in truth its probably not. We want to believe that people get what they deserve, both good and bad. They probably don’t.
And most of us believe that if we have a house and a job then we will be safe for a while. But the truth is, at any moment, a blast of radiation from space could eradicate all life on the planet.
Some might say, “That’s not fair!” But nothing is. Fair is something we made up.
This is disappointing, and can get even the most optimistic person down. As we learned from mythology without even really knowing it, there is a better way to respond. Maybe heroes aren’t real. So what? You should try to be one. Maybe Santa won’t really bring you presents, but it’s still a good idea to be good. Maybe justice is a myth. Be just anyway.
And, in the end, isn’t it better to have believed and lost then to have never believed at all?