Children’s fantasies and fables are one of the most effective ways of helping us see our folly as adults. One story that I always cite is that of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches, a band of creatures who learned that what they had in common was much more important than what separated them.
We live in a time of extremism. Political litmus tests are the rule of the day, not the exception. We see it on the right and the left. If you don’t toe the far left or far right party line you’re vulnerable to attack. Moderation cannot be tolerated. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was an example of how Republicans will start to eat their own. Even mild-mannered Tim Pawlenty felt compelled to use golf club swinging (ala Tiger Woods’ wife) analogies to make his point. From my experience following fellow liberals on Twitter the rhetoric is often just as extreme and intolerant of moderation. This movement toward the extremes carries with it a diminishing intellectual curiosity and contributes to the dumbing down of America.
Thanks to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, I’ve stumbled upon another fable that is instructive and speaks to man’s insistence on conformity to a strict set of rules. If you don’t conform, you’ll find the folks you thought were friends are your worst enemies. Olbermann read this fable by James Thurber on Monday night’s edition of “Countdown”. It resonated with me and I hope it resonates with you.
The Peacelike Mongoose
by James Thurber
In cobra country a mongoose was born one day who didn’t want to fight cobras or anything else. The word spread from mongoose to mongoose that there was a mongoose who didn’t want to fight cobras. If he didn’t want to fight anything else, it was his own business, but it was the duty of every mongoose to kill cobras or be killed by cobras.
‘Why’ asked the peacelike mongoose, and the word went around that the strange new mongoose was not only pro-cobra and anti-mongoose but intellectually curious and against the ideals and traditions of mongoosism.
‘He is crazy,’ cried the young mongoose’s father.
‘He is sick,’ said his mother.
‘He is a coward,’ shouted his brothers.
‘He is a mongoosexual,’ whispered his sisters.
Strangers who never laid eyes on the peacelike mongoose remembered that they had seen him crawling on his stomach, or trying on cobra hoods, or plotting the violent overthrow of Mongoosia.
‘I am trying to use reason and intelligence,’ said the strange new mongoose.
‘Reason is six-sevenths of treason,’ said one of his neighbours.
‘Intelligence is what the enemy uses,’ said another.
Finally, the rumour spread that the mongoose had venom in his sting, like a cobra, and was tried, convicted by a show of paws, and condemned to banishment.
MORAL: Ashes to ashes, and clay to clay, if the enemy doesn’t get you your own folks may.