I’m reading Charles Penglase’s book Greek Mythology and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod. The heart of Penglase’ book is the idea that myth writers took motifs from other stories. He identifies rough motifs such as the goddess-and-her-consort stories where there is a journey to the underworld and a return and then he argues that those motifs show up even in unusual places. For example, pointing out how Apollo’s birth could be seen as fitting the goddess-and-consort-and-underworld myth. It has a wandering mother searching for (a place to bear) her child. It has the personified Island being scared it will be pushed down into the (underworld?) ocean. Could Apollo’s birth into the sunshine with the Earth smiling be a sort of rise out of the underworld? The idea is not that the two stories are the same, but that they share similar motifs. Apollo’s story is described in terms that the early listeners may have recognized from other stories of gods aquiring power.
One section in the book compares the story of Pandora with the myths of Enki, particularly noting the following features (from the list on page 219):
rebellion against the supreme god;
resultant creation of mankind;
resultant imposition of hard toil and sacrifice;
repetition of the same roles: the supreme god commands creation, but does not play a part in the actual creation; the roles of craft, clever god, and benefactor of mankind are repeated;
the same methods of creation used by Enki and Hephaistos: craftsman methods, modelling figurines from clay; and the goddess in each having the same role;
the rebel deity punished as a result of his activities against the supreme god;
ideas of the soul with the rebel deity’s punishment;
the clever god tricking the supreme god to benefit mankind;
the supreme god acting as the enemy of man and seeking to destroy him;
the supreme god strongly criticized: the story showing an antagonistic attitude to him; he is harsh, his actions are irresponsible and unjustified;
the Flood motif;
ideas of history of mankind and the origins of races.
Reading that list I am struck by the similarities to the first few chapters of Genesis. Think of the story of Adam and Eve. The snake in the garden could be seen as a variation of Prometheus, trying to help the humans against the limits put before them by the supreme god. In both cases the woman disregards instructions and does something she’s not supposed to do. The supreme god is harsh and punishes all. In both the story of Eve and Pandora, humans move into a new way of life involving much more toil than before.
Both stories include scenes of getting dressed. Pandora is dressed by the gods. God makes skin coats for Adam and Eve. In Penglase’ book he talks about how getting dressed was in Mesopotamian mythology a sign of putting on power. Is Adam’s concern for nakedness in Genesis not about embaressment but about weakness? Is God’s concern about disobedience or about the growing power of the humans?
So I’m left wondering, did the ancient Hebrews who wrote the story of Adam and Eve have in mind any of the other myths? Perhaps there was a general understanding that humans were created out of clay. That makes sense. All ancient people would know they returned to soil. Why wouldn’t they come from there? Does the story of Adam and Eve bring into the Hebrew context of a people chosen by God the memory of older myths about defying God?
Not long ago I read a different book that spoke directly about the story of Eve. The book was Discovering Eve by Carol Meyers. The book argues that the early Biblical writers didn’t associate Adam and Eve eating the fruit being distinctly about sin or humans becoming sinful. Lots of Biblical writers rant about sin, but they don’t bring it all back to that story. So she argues originally it wasn’t. Originally, she suggests, it was a folktale about the transition to an agrarian society. How different is that from the Greek story?
It is easy to say “oh, of course the stories are related – they both blame women for the world’s problems.” I’m not 100% sure they both do. Pandora is sent as a punishment, meaning someone already did wrong. Carol Meyers suggests the Biblical omen to Eve isn’t perscribing an extra burden for women as punishment, but simply describing a basic reality. She translates the little omen about Eve a little differently than most Bibles, suggesting it isn’t a matter of childbirth pains but rather just acknowledging that women have a dual role in an agrarian society – working and bearing children.
I will greatly increase your toil and your pregnancies;
Along with travail shall you beget children.
The author argues that we shouldn’t read it as tremendously patriarchal either. She argues in most subsistence farming communities that women worked lots and were respected and had levels of control over the household economy. She paints an interesting picture of the difficult life of highland Palestine at the beginning of the iron age.
If the story of Adam and Eve is about the switch to an agrarian society, then would the story of Cain and Abel be about the competition between the needs of the grain growers and those of the shepherds? I wonder to what extent those were in competition.
The Mesopotamian myth of Enki and Enlil tells of humans being created to serve the gods. (They are created out of clay but brought to life by the blood of the executed leader of a rebellion against Enlil.) Later Enlil, the head god, grows tired of the noise of the humans and decides to kill them off. A number of plots to do so end up foiled by Enki. Penglase’ book mentions that the story might have grown out of competition between the cults of Enlil in Nippur and Enki in Eridu. I wonder if the story of Adam and Eve could be a response to similar geographical/political/religious issues. If Carol Meyers is right that is in response to a move into the hillside of Palestine, could it be describing that move as one their god sends them on so they will not be further enticed by whatever cultic-background the snake represents?
Thinking of the Bible as mythology brings up a lot of possibilities. At first glance it seems different. There’s few gods or monsters! Yet, there’s similarities. Could the story of the wandering Aramean and the more developed Moses story be seen as a journey to the underworld story? Could the motif be spread over multiple generations? While my son was talking to me about the stories of Hera, I started to wonder if the story of Abraham and Sarah could be seen as a sort of Zeus-Hera story. What about Jacob as a sort of trickster-Hermes character? There are similarities between the stories of the patriarchs and both Greek or Mesopotamian mythology, if one considers the possibility of the patriarchs as equivalent to gods or heroes. Or perhaps it is easier to consider the gods and heroes as equivalent to the patriarchs?
(Note: This blog post includes material I had previously written as Facebook updates.)
I’ve been reading through an old book on the ancient Hittite laws. (Why? Why not?!) The first interesting detail in the book is the idea that they might not have had a word for the abstract concept of “law.” They had a word for “a law” or “the laws.”
Some of the laws seem unremarkable but others have led to some interesting conversations with my kids. We talked about the following law and how it compares to modern compensation for injuries: “If anyone injures a person and temporarily incapacities him, he shall provide medical care for him. In his place he shall provide a person to work on his estate until he recovers. When he recovers, (his assailant) shall pay him 6 shekels of silver and shall pay the physicians fee as well.”
There are a number of laws pertaining to male slaves paying the brideprice for a (free) woman and taking her as a wife after which “no one shall change her social status.” The commentary in the book says it is a bit ambiguous as to whether that means the woman becomes a slave on marriage and no one may free her, or whether it means she remains a free woman regardless of her marriage to the slave.
There are other laws pertaining to live in sons-in-law, which apparently were paid extra at marriage in exchange for the fact that they become a member of their father-in-law’s household with no possession of their own. I wonder if that was a way in which a younger, landless son could be married off. But I am not sure yet whether they had a primogeniture system of inheritance or not.
Apparently the older Hittite laws said if you stole a couple of bee hives the punishment would be to be exposed to bee stings, but later Hittite laws switched that to having to pay a fine in compensation. In general the laws promoted compensation over punishment.
If one found an ox, horse, donkey or implement one had to return it to the person one who lost it. If the owner couldn’t be found, one had to secure witnesses that one was only maintaining custody. Then if the owner came forward, the item was to be returned. Without witnesses, if the owner found the items the person who possessed them would be assumed to be a thief and have to pay threefold compensation. That law is a good one to ask kids about. Why does society benefit by forcing a thief to pay threefold compensation instead of just return the item?
One law speaks about if you push another man off his ass while he’s crossing a river, and that man drowns. The law is too specific. One of my kids, upon hearing this, instantly wanted to know if things were the same for if one pushes someone off a donkey or a horse. The book I’m reading suggests the law was based on a specific case – on precedent, that is, and probably one where someone was drowning and attempted to save himself but in the process pushed someone else off. The Hittite law says that the man who pushed the other off can be taken (presumably as a slave) by the dead man’s heirs. In this case it seems that intent does not matter. In other cases, intent does seem to be taken into account.
What modern terms correspond to the idea of killing someone “in a quarrel?”
There is so much to wonder about! So much to talk about! For me the best days homeschooling are when I’m reading something interesting and I just sit and discuss it with my children.
Today on Facebook I noticed a story about how the Trudeau government is creating “newspapers and websites deemed reliable.” That makes it sound like the government’s creating a serious official list of which papers are trustworthy or not. Except that isn’t what is really happening.
The article in question was by the Post Millennial and it had little information but a link to an article by Blacklocks Reporter blog. So I go to that and read that, and they’re talking about how the Federal Budget Bill C-97 has some funding for journalism. This is good. Local newspapers are losing out on advertisements as everyone advertises online and they lose out on subscriptions as we turn to free online content instead.
The subsidies appear to be (and I’m quoting now from the Blacklock Blog):
1) a 15 percent tax credit to a maximum $75 for subscribers of websites operated by a “qualified Canadian journalism organization”
2) The bill also amends the Income Tax Act to offer lucrative payroll subsidies for news organizations “primarily engaged in the production of original written news content”.
The tax subsidy going to subscribers of news sources should help increase online subscriptions to help newspapers. Since subscribers still get to choose which newspapers to subscribe to, the public will have a huge say in where that money goes. We can buy subscriptions in the newspapers we think are trustworthy. We can skip the others, regardless of if they appear on the list or not.
Granting payroll subsidies for the production of original news content sounds great to me since we see so many news sources rely on publishing a bunch of stuff from their chain newspapers, which have little to do with our local situations. Sure, it is economical for a newspaper to get their journalists to do articles that have wide appear province or nation-wide and can be duplicated in all different newspapers, but we also need the stories that focus on our local situations.
Now the right-wing media sources are trying to encourage people to fear that the government list of qualified sources will be based on partisan choices. They try to make it sound like journalists will all be writing wonderful things about Trudeau in an effort to gain funding. So the big question is, what does it take to get on the list?
You can read the budget here. Use your web browsers “find on page” feature to find how it defines a registered journalism organization. Or you can read a summary here. It sounds very much like the qualifications are that the journalist organization has to be Canadian, report news, and not be one-subject themed (so not a gardening magazine or equivalent). It has to have at least two arms length journalists. It can’t receive too much funding from one donor. It has to be an actual organization.
It is okay to have definitions of what counts as journalism or not. We have definitions for charities. We have definitions for all different things. We can’t offer the funding to absolutely anyone who wants to call themselves a journalist. That makes sense.
I’ve been reading a book called Liberating Jonah: Forming an Ethics of Reconciliation. The book has a lot less about Jonah than I had hoped, but it has lots about reconciliation, which is good too.
The starting argument of the book is that the miracle in the story of Jonah is not so much the storm or the fish but that Jonah was called to go to the Assyrians in the first place. Assyrians were the evil ones, the murdering empire bent on oppressing everyone. Yet the Bible says that God called on them to repent and would forgive even them.
The bulk of the book is an argument for the need for Americans (and Canadians and Europeans, though the book is directed towards Americans) to repent – not for disbelief in God, but for creation of oppressive structures. We have to recognize the ways in which we benefit from oppression and attempt to change that.
The book takes issue with a lot of ways people attempt false reconciliation. Doing apologies is not enough. Charity is not enough. Having white guilt or any other type of guilt is not useful. Celebrating multiculturalism is not enough. Nothing is enough unless we break down those structures of oppression.
The book has been a good one for me as I look at what I want to be doing with my life. When I grabbed the book from the library I was hoping for something academic about the origins of the book of Jonah, and instead I found another challenge to myself to get active and live out my faith – faith not in God, which I don’t believe in, but in justice, which I do believe in.
I feel weird sharing this because I don’t want to imply that I think I can actually solve the big problems or break down the structures of oppression. In some ways I feel like I should keep these thoughts to myself, less they be misunderstood or taken as bragging or posturizing. But I also feel like sharing them because nothing can be done in isolation and I want to invite my friends along. I know some of you have been on the journey for justice and making a better world for a long time, and at times I felt I was on that journey and then times where I was just focused on my own life. I want to get back on the journey. I want to hear from you, your ideas on how we break down the structures of oppression or how we benefit from others oppression. We all know we do, right? Let’s talk about it. What are sources of oppression? Where are opportunities for change? What brings you hope and what brings you despair and what can we do? Together?
I wrote the following specifically for a conversation in a Facebook group, but I suspect that conversation might be deleted and I thought I’d like to share these thoughts here:
The Yellow Vest mission statement there and the conversation here has gotten me thinking about coded language. When do words have different extra meanings? I’m thinking about things like when someone talks about “the sanctity of marriage” in American media, they’re probably talking about promoting certain types of marriages and not others. They don’t have to come right out and say that. I’m trying to think of other examples of coded messaging. The Yellow Vests ends up using coded messages.
The sustainability aspect of the Yellow Vest mission statement reminds me of the fear and rumors associated with Agenda 21, a non-binding UN agreement around sustainable development that certain groups argued was really a conspiracy to depopulate the earth. I remember back when the Occupy movement was a thing, some of the people there talked lots about Agenda 21 and a belief in FEMA camps. There – FEMA camps – that’s another coded thing, because it wasn’t just a belief in the existence of those camps but an implied belief that they weren’t just emergency shelters but prison-camps in waiting for political prisoners. The Yellow Vests fear of the UN sustainable development agreement sounds very similar to the older fear of Agenda 21. Of course it isn’t just that…. its now mixed in with determination to get pipelines built despite both environmental and indigenous rights concerns. It is a concern against the carbon tax. But it is wrapped up in this idea that somehow Canadians have lost their sovereignty and are being forced by the UN to do something we don’t want. It is a way of ignoring the huge number of Canadians who have been lobbying for a carbon tax, and against the pipelines. It is shifting the blame for those issues to foreigners – the evil UN.
There’s more coded language. The emphasis on “we’re okay with legal immigrants, just against illegal ones” makes it sound like there’s some huge moral different between them and that we’re being flooded with illegal immigrants. It is a way of saying “you can hate (some/most/these) foreigners, because they’re breaking laws…”. Never mind the questions of whether those laws are moral, whether we ourselves are always obedient to the laws or any other questions. Never mind if the difference between legal and illegal immigrants is largely that the illegal ones are too poor and desperate to get into Canada the legal routes, but once they’re here they contribute tremendously. Never mind that the same people against illegal immigrants often complain horribly about the amount of regulations preventing them from doing what they want, and believe those regulations should be removed/ignored/etc. (Do they hate people who cheat on taxes? Or is the obsession with legality limited to immigrants.) By trying to frame the issue in terms of legal vs illegal immigrants, those with a general dislike of those whose skin color and culture don’t match their own can believe they’re “not racist.”
I’m reading little bits from four thousand year old poems about Inanna, a Sumerian goddess, as translated by Betty De Shong Meador. Here are a few small samples.
She shifts a god’s curse
a blight reversed
out of nothing shapes
what has never been
her sharp wit
splits the door
where cleverness resides
and there reveals
what lives inside
to smooth the traveler’s road
to clear a path for the weak
are yours Inanna
to straighten the footpath
to make firm the cleft place
are yours Inanna
to destroy to build
to lift up to put down
are yours Inanna
her song sung
with joy of heart
in the plain
with joy of heart
and soaks her mace
in blood and gore
with eater-ax and
these evil blades
the warrior flings
pours blood on offerings
so who she feeds
dines on death.
Did that last one surprise you? I read it to my kids and the mood shift in it really hit them.
The second set belongs to a section on different jobs Inanna does, different powers she has. The list is really long and incorporates all different sets of opposites. I chose this section because it reminds me of certain Biblical verses.
As I read about a power struggle in an ancient temple, and a priestess being exiled… I think of the line “the personal is political” and how the ancient theologians expressed the belief that the personal is cosmological. Every event is part of the divine dramas. How much meaning that must have granted to their lives!
I know there are people today who believe their lives are part of some big divine adventure.
In hold shifting ideas in my mind right now. For a moment I picture the ancient gods and goddesses not as concrete beings or personalities but as forces of nature, as allegories. In one poem Inanna is the cyclical force of nature, who rages because a mountain fails to worship her. She seeks the god An’s support in attacking the mountain but he says no, he will not help. So she draws herself up to her full strength and subdues the mountain herself. The book I’m reading suggests that the mountain is in some way representative of a god that could exist outside the laws of nature, separate from matter. I wonder if it doesn’t in some way represent civilization/empire/attempts to conquer nature. For an instant I can picture the forces of nature and entropy destroying human hubris.
For a moment I can see how one could envision deities in our own lives. I can picture the yellow-vest movement in Canada as the forces of anger and ignorance teaming up together to move people out of apathy and into a wild untamed action. (Ok, pretty mild action – we are Canadian, after all, but still.) I can picture my love of books and learning as a form of worship at the alter of an oracle. I seek to see into the past. I seek to see the big picture. I can imagine my children’s struggle between the desire to play together and their frustration at things not going their way as being a battle between two deities – not literal spirits or anything but between desires personified.
If one can hold that thought in one’s mind for a moment – deities that aren’t personalities but more like the personification of concepts, desires, forces – one can imagine everything a sacred battleground, but one can also see the theological statements about the gods as being philosophical statements.
For a few minutes, thinking about all this, my world feels transformed.
I am fascinated by ancient religious texts. I want to know what manner of god a people worshipped, not because I believe in magic or deities but because I want to know what they said about themselves. How did they understand the problem of evil? How did they attempt to bring about social cohesion or limit the powers of tyrants? How did they attempt to protect the vulnerable or accept suffering? How did they understand their role in the universe?
I want to talk about anxious children. Or maybe highly gifted children with a deep sense of injustice. Or maybe highly gifted and anxious children. Children who flip out easily, and struggle to keep things together.
Imagine a child, whom we’ll call Joe. Numerous times a day, Joe starts to respond to something. Maybe Joe’s picked up on a note of frustration in someone else’s voice and thinks the other is angry. Maybe Joe is struggling to do something and worried he won’t be able to. Maybe Joe has noticed something unfair in the world, but knows no one else will want to pause things and try to sort out why it is unfair and what could be done to make it fair. Maybe there’s just too much noise and emotional stimulation around.
Whatever it is, Joe starts flipping out. Maybe he raises his voice. Maybe he threatens to leave the room, interrupting whatever joint activity is going on. Maybe he starts crying. His actions are socially unacceptable. I’ve watched different people respond to Joe in different ways.
Some want to punish Joe, to let him know his actions are unacceptable. They want to motivate him to act differently next time, and avoid rewarding Joe’s misbehavior by giving positive attention. Maybe Joe will be sent to his room, or shunned, or glared at, or have privileges revoked. Whatever the punishment is, Joe knows he’s done wrong. He doesn’t know how to stop doing wrong, and people being angry at him makes him panic more. He responds to the panic with more inappropriate behavior, and they respond with more punishment.
Other people recognize that Joe is panicking. They seek to reassure him that he is loved. They might say firmly that he has to stop raising his voice, or that he needs to come with them into a different room to calm down. They’ll put limits to his behavior, but most of all they’ll assure him that all he needs to do to be socially acceptable again is move within that limit. Stop crying, and all is forgiven. Everything is good.
Those attempting to assure Joe that everything is alright may face accusations that they are too lenient. They may worry that they are enabling bad behaviour. They may be told that by assuring Joe he’s loved when he’s misbehaving, they are encouraging misbehaviour.
Here are a few suggestions if you’re in that situation, trying to assure an anxious child he’s okay when he’s misbehaved, and trying not to give in to fears of being too lenient.
1) State what Joe is going through to help assure Joe he’s understood AND to help those around understand what is going on. “It sounds like you are panicking…” “I think you’re nervous everyone is judging you.” Let others know the child is in crisis mode so they can switch from being angry to trying to help out.
2) Encourage Joe to name his experiences. If you want Joe to find alternative ways to respond when he’s panicked or upset, then you need to teach him alternative ways of being panicked or upset. Encourage him to express his fear, confusion, anxiety, and upsetness in polite ways. If the child is upset because of someone else’s behaviour and you can’t have the child expressing it in front of them, then teach the child they can trust that they will have a chance to tell you all those problems later. Discussing things in the car, on the way home from events, is good. Going into a different room to talk, or going for a brief walk outside together is also good. If the discussion can’t happen right away, make sure the child knows when it can happen and follow through with it. Or have code words or secret signs the child can use to tell you he’s in trouble.
3) Teach the child to come to you and ask for assurance. If you’ve read certain parenting books you might think that a child shouldn’t be asking for assurance all the time, or the child should just know that he is good without having to seek parental praise all the time. Some parenting books actually recommend not giving a kid much praise because you don’t want to get the kid addicted to praise, and instead you want the child to have an internal sense of self and all that. But… if your child needs assurance, give it. Teach them to ask in polite, socially acceptable ways, and then give the praise in abundance.
Really, my advice is all a two-part strategy. When a child is in meltdown mode, the goal is to remove stress and welcome the child back into good behaviour as soon as possible. When the child is not in meltdown mode, teach the child how to get his or her needs met without melting down.
But… but… there are consequences for actions, right? Shouldn’t a child have to face the consequences? Perhaps. I think if there are consequences for misbehaviour in a meltdown state then they should be ones the child pays later (when calm) and that the child can afford to pay (so the child doesn’t have to get too stressed out about them). They should be a way of making restitution, even just symbolic. They should not be the cost of being socially accepted by everyone. It shouldn’t be “do this, and then we’ll forgive you,” but rather “we love and forgive you always, and this, which we know you can handle, is what must be done to try to fix the disruption.” The consequence shouldn’t be something the child has to be scared of. It isn’t about adding fear or using fear to motivate a child, but simply letting actions have consequences. Not every action needs to have a consequence, but if you have them, let them be something the child can feel proud of handling.
Whenever I read a book, I try to spend a bit of time reflecting on it. I try to choose the most important details of it to retell to myself, so I remember them. I try to think of what I’ve learned from it.
Today I’m reflecting on the book Richard I by John Gillingham. I’m thinking about the huge role political relationships and personal negotiations played at the time of Richard. When he went on the crusades, Richard the Lionheart left his different castles and estates in the hands of individuals who had to have the strength to defend them. If he chose the wrong people he would have lost more than he did. Political power was more like a board game, where if you held the castle and could defend it against attack it was yours, and if someone else could grab it, then it was theirs.
Knights, like pirates, did their best to avoid pitched battles. They laid siege and tried to negotiate a surrender. They destroyed the land around a castle. There was devastating consequences for the peasants whose land was being trampled over. I remember reading in a different book, long ago, about the Peace and Truce of God, instituted by the church to try to minimize the damage the warfare had.
The thing I find myself reflecting on most is that there weren’t countries in the way we have countries. Democracy wouldn’t have worked then. If the people could have elected the ruler of their land, would they have chosen someone capable of defending their territory from attack? Would the ruler have been able to make negotiations with other rules and have the political standing necessary to do so, if the other rulers know that person could be replaced by his own people? Or perhaps, people would learn to elect and support a leader who could command the respect of foreign leaders, because they would know that keeping their land from being pillaged was vital to their own survival. Perhaps the most important domestic voting issue would be a leader with good foreign connections.
The lack of democracy didn’t mean a lack of accountability to others. Richard I relied upon others. His crusade depended upon others cooperation. People could and did desert if he didn’t take their desires into consideration and the men he had left behind could turn his castles over to his enemies, if they wanted. (A few did.) There was no accountability to the common man, but there was to the knights and other rulers.
I don’t want to idealize or romanticize the time. It was bloody. It was brutal. It is not a time period I’d really want to live in, though I wonder how I would have managed. Would I have had the courage to deal honourably with whatever circumstances I was put in? Would I have been brave and determined? In some ways it is easy to romanticize that time period because the places for bravery were obvious. Yet it is worth spending some time thinking about where bravery can play a role today. Somehow, though we rarely risk death today, we seem more cowardly, more likely to see financial costs and embarrassment as too big a risk for standing up for things.
You wouldn’t think that pulling a child out of school to homeschool would be hard for me. After all, I’ve done it before, multiple times. I was homeschooled for six years as a teenager. My oldest has only ever been to school for a month and my second oldest for only a year. My daughter came home in the middle of the year her grade-one year. She returned to school in grade two of her own free will. In the summer before grade three she’d like to homeschool again, and we pushed her back into school because we had seen the fun she had the year before. She’s really not enjoying it, and there’s no real reason for her to be there, and her brothers are home, so why not let her homeschool too?
Yet still somehow, I feel embarrassed and nervous about letting her leave school again now.
It has nothing to do with who she is. She’s a delight to have around. We work well together. She’s younger, so she needs more help but not beyond what I can handle. It isn’t that having all three at home will be too hard.
There’s a tad of embarrassment on my part about her leaving school in the middle of the year, a tad of embarrassment that we are changing our mind about things like this. Does letting a child leave in the middle of the year encourage dropping out of things? We wanted her to try grade three. We wanted to give her the opportunity to have a great grade three in school. We don’t want the kids to be scared of trying other things, scared that if they go one year and have a good time, we’ll never let them change their minds. We wanted to try without committing to spending a full year. A full year is a long time for a child.
She’s had a cold the last few days and that is providing an unintended but gentle shift back into homeschooling. She’s home anyway, with the cold. Giving notice to the school can be delayed. We can start working our way back into our homeschool routines.
I feel a weird sense of worry about homeschooling. School feels a bit like some sort of all-inclusive pre-built nutritious diet. It’s like a pet-food, specially formulated to meet the animal’s entire needs, and now I’m moving away from that to feeding my own home-mixed recipe and I’m not 100% sure I’ll be able to include everything. What if I miss some important nutrient? Even though I’ve done this before, I can’t stop worrying, just a little.
Homeschooling is a great responsibility.
But I’m also happy – very happy – that she’s coming home.
“Coming home” sounds strange. She comes home from school every day, doesn’t she? She does, but then home is the place to get ready for the next day at school. The time after school is not nearly long enough. She’s tired of being left-out of things her brothers do. This way she’ll be back with her brothers and me during our days.
Homeschooling is a way of coming home again in that the priorities shift. The heart of the day will be home.
Today I’m having my own little epistemological crisis. My inspiration for these thoughts are a New York Times article talking about a theory on the recent pipe bombs sent to Democrats. The New York Times reported on this theory:
The bombs, this theory went, were not actually part of a plot to harm Democrats, but were a “false flag” operation concocted by leftists in order to paint conservatives as violent radicals ahead of the elections next month.
The inability of people to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, their own political party includes some violent radicals is amazing. It boggles my mind that others can believe that somehow this is a false flag. It seems so obvious to me that it isn’t. As Andy Borowitz quipped on Facebook the headline “Suspect arrested in pipe bomb case had right wing Trump stickers all over his van” is the “LEAST SURPRISING HEADLINE EVER.”
Yet still there are people who want to convince themselves that this is not true. The person sending those bombs couldn’t have been a right-winger. It must be a false flag. The lengths people go to try to get out of believing the truth is amazing. It has always bothered me the extent to which people attempt to protect their beliefs.
This experience of losing important beliefs is disconcerting; I know that. I’ve gone through it. I’ve had things I was absolutely convinced, and then later I realize I don’t believe them anymore and I feel stupid about having once believed it. I know that the ability to change beliefs makes me a little nervous about sharing my beliefs now – I don’t trust that I’ll hold the same beliefs forever. I wonder how I can trust my current belief system, knowing that it can change. Everything I think I know is true might not be, and I have to accept that. The discomfort that brings gives me some sense of why people might go to such lengths to try to hold onto their beliefs.
The other day I was cautioning one of my children that he has to be careful in making arguments with others. You don’t have to fight every fight you’re invited to. You don’t have to try to win. He said that’s because people are dumb, and I said even some smart people cling to false ideas. He couldn’t wrap his head around that at all. “If they’re smart, wouldn’t they know that they don’t know everything and open themselves to seeing the logic of something else?” It has been a few days but he’s still bringing that topic up as he ruminates on it.
Often people dismiss ideas they don’t like as coming from a source they don’t like. “Oh, that sounds like something they’d say on Fox News” or “that’s from a liberal rag” or “that sounds like 4chan.” We can brush off what other people say, dismissing their sources, or if that doesn’t work, the person themselves. If people don’t like an idea, they often brush of the messenger. To my shame, I know I’ve done that at times. The methods people use for defending their positions are often at odds with maintaining friendships.
The determination to hold onto beliefs in the face of evidence splits people apart. We can’t talk, can’t come to common ground, unless we’re willing to shift our positions a bit. Not shifting positions in the way of everyone moving to the center and pretending to believe something they don’t, or worse yet one person shifting their position in an attempt to show flexibility and compromise while the other holds the same position firmly, but a shifting of position that comes from actually listening to one another’s opinions thoughtfully.
I wrote a few days ago about my difficulties setting boundaries. Part of the challenge for me with setting boundaries is that I tend to try to look at people through rose colored glasses because I’m not confident that I can see the truth about people. Knowing that my perception of someone changes over time, I know my initial perceptions are not always true and I want to see the best in people. This often backfires on me. My rose colored glasses lead me wrong, and I end up hurt. I’m learning to be cautious on that.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me wondering whether anything I know is true. I know that:
People often go long lengths to delude themselves.
I’ve done that at times.
I could, potentially, be doing that now.
So how do I know that what I believe now is true? I look to those around me for collaboration, but how can that reassure me when those around me are a group I selected, thus likely to be those who share possible beliefs/delusions?
This is why I think sometimes we need small town community. We need people around us we don’t agree with, that we didn’t pick but we can’t get rid of. Internet commenters can’t replace that, since they’re too easy to dismiss. We need people we can have long-term relationships with, that we can respect for some things while disagreeing with on other things. We need hard rocks on which we can brush off our own rough edges and who can ground us in reality.