Life isn’t a childhood fable

Published 9:12 pm Friday, April 12, 2019


Coffee with Mimi

Fables are a rich tradition in the world of child rearing and children’s literature. Fables are designed to teach a simple lesson in one quick bedtime story.  In fables, there are simple problems or issues in life and equally simple and clear resolutions. A typical format for the lesson is a brief scenario usually based on two characters. Each character has distinct habits or attitudes. One character has a behavioral flaw which is less desirable and the other is unable to see his, or her, own talents or the positive aspects of their situation. Often the characters are animals. The rationale being that tagging negative or positive characteristics to a particular type of human is stereotyping. Those guys were pretty smart back in the day.

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In the days of old Aesop, the stories were traded around by word of mouth by family members through the generations.  Depending on the individual storyteller, certain details would be emphasized while others may be dropped in the telling all together. Embellishments were likely dependent on the particular problem needing attention during the day and the particular child  being tucked in.

I no longer have children at home and don’t have a grandchild to tuck in very often.  But, I still have shelves full of children’s bedtime story books. 

Wouldn’t it be great if adult attitudes and problems could be solved with a pretty, nicely illustrated, and short, story at bedtime?  What if every issue could be distilled to two clearly defined sides of the question, one of which is most assuredly preferable to the other and the benefits of one side are easily explained and accepted by the other, and the whole thing takes just five pages?

Think of all the restful sleep time gained if we had a bank of fables to reassure and lull us at the end of a confusing day.

But, we don’t. 

In the interest of being well informed, we avail ourselves of the vast array of opinions put forth through multiple cable news channels, and even more social media and internet options, and human contacts in an active world.  There are print publications and books still around too.  It seems every individual who has experienced anything at all has written a book about it, which has appeared on someone’s must read list. 

There is not a useable fable moment among any of it. In fables, there is always a right way and a wrong way and the difference is indisputable leaving no question that everyone would see it and believe it for the rest of time.  Everyone ends up on the same page.

The problem with fables is there is no room for nuance or exception.  When it is over, it is over.  You don’t turn the page for an, “Oh, by the way…”

A well used fable through the years is one in which there is a country mouse and a city mouse.  The country mouse lived his simple life out minding the chickens and plowing his fields, working contentedly all day to feed his family in a quiet, self-contained existence.  The city mouse exhibited a grand life with grocery stores and delivery people to keep his larder stocked freeing him up to enjoy evenings at the opera and entertaining his next door neighbors with fabulous meals and after dinner port in front of the fire. 

For whatever reason, mostly to show off, the city mouse invites the country mouse to town.  In fables, the connecting details are not so important and likely varied from telling to telling and country to country.

The country mouse, arriving at the mansion of the city mouse, is envious.  My goodness, food and necessities are delivered, prepared, served, and the remains and dirty dishes are all whisked away while the host is carrying on with some innocuous, social banter.  The story ends as expected.  A disaster of some sort befalls the group resulting in danger and unpleasantness. 

The country mouse returns home, happy with his lifestyle choice  The moral of the story is summed up in one simple sentence; it is better to live a simple life than a dangerous one.

Really? Is that all there is to consider? One bad experience is the basis for a life lesson? What about the coyote that is lurking about in the dark preparing to pounce on your chicken coop back at the old homestead?

Fables have a major flaw. They aren’t based in reality. One definition refers to a fable as a story teaching a moral but goes on to refine the usage saying the method is often based on an untruth.  Seems a bit contradictory.

At what point in our intellectual development do we move on from fables?  When is it time to tell a story which incorporates the ins and outs of any position?  Living in the city is well suited to a person who enjoys the options. Living in the country is a great choice for those who enjoy that lifestyle. Each is fraught with its disadvantages and pleasures. The moral of the story is to each his own, appreciate the choice.