“They paint the world full of shadows… and then tell their children to stay close to the light. Their light. Their reasons, their judgments. Because in the darkness, there be dragons. But it isn’t true. We can prove that it isn’t true. In the dark, there is discovery, there is possibility, there is freedom in the dark once someone has illuminated it.” — Captain Flint
Like so many things in life, we don’t fully appreciate an experience in the moment. It is only months, years, lifetimes later that we realise how valuable they were/are and how they influence our thinking.
I studied French in college and part of our course was French literature. One of our classes examined the folktale of “Little Red Riding Hood” or in French “Le Petit Chaperon Rouge”. In the module, we examined the many variations and adaptations of the story as it evolved throughout history. Believe me when I say I never thought I would ever revisit this subject ever again and yet here I am honoured to have had the privilege.
This Thursday Thought looks at the vital importance of the stories we tell ourselves and more importantly the stories we pass on to future generations. These “stories” inform our world view and give us certain perceptions of the world. Such stories condition us and have a major influence on how we navigate the world and make sense of it. These frames shape our thoughts, behaviours and mindsets.
Le Petit Chaperon Rouge
For those of us who may have forgotten, here is the Little Red Riding Hood plot as fast as I can do so…
Dressed in a red cape, a young girl, Red Riding Hood, walks through the dark woods to deliver food to her sick grandmother. Her mother orders her to stay strictly on the beaten path.
A Big Bad Wolf stalks her from the undergrowth. When he approaches Little Red, she innocently tells him where she is going.
He suggests she pick some flowers for granny. As she does so, he races ahead to gran’s house, pretends to be little Red at the door, is welcomed in and promptly swallows gran whole. Next, he disguises himself as granny and awaits Red.
On arrival, she notices that granny looks odd. After pretending to be gran, wolf jumps out of bed and scoffs Red. He is now full and nods off to sleep. In some versions, the story ends on this sombre note.
In other variations, there is a rescue where a woodcutter cuts open the sleeping wolf and both Red and Gran emerge unscathed. The woodcutter fills the wolf’s body with heavy stones, which kill him.
Milder versions still have the gran locked in a closet instead of being swallowed whole and others have Red saved by the lumberjack as the wolf stalks her rather than after she gets eaten, avoiding the gory details altogether.
The Moral of the Story?
The earliest known printed version appeared in the French collection “Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals. Tales of Mother Goose”, in 1697, by Charles Perrault. Perrault explained the ‘moral’ at the end of the tale:
“From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition — neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous”.
While Perrault is highlighting the dangers that await young women by predatory men, the overarching theme highlights the safety of the village versus the dangers of the forest. It serves to warn children about the dangers of straying from the beaten path.
Couple this with the socialisation of children through school, religion and society and a child is programmed to carry the social narrative on from generation to generation.
We can be flippant about the narratives we feed children, thinking the stories we tell are harmless, but they can have a dramatic impact. As we mature from childhood, we continue to consume “narratives” that reinforce that we are better served to stick to the well-worn path.
Media can condition us to believe the world is an unsafe place as can the nouveau water-cooler moments we now experience on social media, in the workplace or the homestead.
In turn, we pass those social narratives on to our children.
“Our eyes are not viewers they’re also projectors, that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time.” — Jim Carey
Utopia — A Garden of Eden Without a Serpent?
Our cultural narrative continually conditions us to believe the world is inherently a dangerous place. Religion can reinforce such thinking. The more dangerous the world, then maybe the more we may feel a need for church and state.
Think for a moment of the biblical story of “The Garden of Eden”. Despite it being an idyllic place, a place of unprecedented beauty, within Eden lives a serpent. Why is the serpent there?
Imagine the garden was walled and no serpent could get in. That would also mean we would not have the opportunity to wander, to get off the beaten path. Without wandering life would be fairly “lifeless”.
In a previous Thursday Thought we spoke of managing tensions and when you experience any peak in life you also experience a trough. They are two sides of the same coin, if you want the coin you have to be prepared to enjoy the highs and manage the lows. This is akin to having the serpent in the garden, if you want utopia, you will equally experience dystopia, the skill is in managing the dystopian and relishing the utopian.
It is only through pushing the boundaries of our existence do we grow. It is by wandering far from the beaten path that we learn. By extending ourselves we experience new things and these new things give us new lenses through which to view the world.
This is why travel is so important, this is why the information we consume is so important, this is why diversity of thought is essential, this is why the people we surround ourselves are such an influence. This is why we should tell better stories to ourselves and to future generations.
I had a beautiful moment with my sons recently, which illustrates the importance of what we tell them. Two years ago I brought my oldest son to collect chestnuts in the park. We had got there a little late in autumn and there were very few left on the trees.
As we searched through the woods for chestnuts, he asked me (he was 6 at the time) what innovation means (He had overheard me working on the innovation show one evening). After thinking for a moment, I replied, “Well, think of us looking for chestnuts. Most people would look for them in an expected place. We need to look where they do not think to look. We must think differently. We must take the road less travelled.”
Soon, he found some by looking on the surrounding bushes, reasoning that some chestnuts would have been trapped in the foliage as they fell from the trees. He was right.
This year, just last month, I brought both my sons to search for chestnuts. That event inspired me to write this piece. We struggled once again to find chestnuts, we were not late this time, but rather the deer in the park had eaten any chestnuts that had fallen to the ground.
As the boys searched a few feet ahead of me, I overheard them talking. And then it came after two years of incubation, my 8-year-old said to my 5-year-old. “You gotta use innovation, you gotta look where others don’t look, you gotta take the road less travelled.”
B-e-a-utiful … mic drop moment.
“…Many of us are living a very narrow life, we have self inflicted blinkers on. Widen your view, widen your mind, widen you life.” — Marcus Aurelius
The Cave You Fear to Enter Holds The Treasure You Seek
“There’s a key to adventuring you don’t get it by winning, you get it by wandering around in a dark room.” From Ready Player One
When are conditioned to believe that the well-beaten path is the safest way through life, we don’t get to truly experience life. Once conditioned to think the world is unsafe, we wander less.
Many of us have become lawn mower parents and/or helicopter parents hovering over our children, smoothing the path ahead of them or overseeing their every decision from above. While it is done from a place of goodness, a place of love, by removing the resistance, we deny them the opportunity to grow.
It is in wandering, they discover. It is in falling, they learn to get back up. It is in failing, they learn to succeed. Resistance builds resilience. We cannot deny them the opportunity to wander off the beaten path, but we can give them the tools to manage the resistance they will certainly encounter.
We exist to encourage their growth, not to justify our experience through them. There is a magical poem below, the author of which I cannot source. The poem states that our jobs as parents, minders, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, mentors and leaders is to give others both wings and roots.
Roots to stay strong in a world that tries to mould us and wings so that we can soar and revel in life.
ROOTS AND WINGS
If I could give you many things,
I’d give you gold and silver rings
Of knowledge that I’ve gained with years
The gift of smiling through the tears
Confidence, courage, determination,
Laughter and spirit and love of creation,
Wrapped up in a box with a bow, I’d give
To you these gifts to keep for as long as you live.
“If I could give you just two things,
One would be Roots, the other, Wings.”
Roots, not to tie you to the ground,
But to guide you to where your fulfilment is found
The nourishing start, the firm foundation,
The source of your inner determination.
Wings to soar over obstacles, wings to fly free,
Wings to glide to the heights of the best you can be.
And when obstacles loom, from your Roots grows a hand
Providing a strong, sturdy, safe place to land.
I’d choose these two things for the gifts that are best,
For with Roots and with Wings, you’ll find all the rest!
THANKS FOR READING, IF YOU LIKE IT HIT A THUMB SO OTHERS MIGHT WANDER AND DISCOVER IT
This week’s innovation show is: EP 124: “Dogs Don’t Bark at Parked Cars” with Jeff Piersall
“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of other men” — Albert Einstein
Dogs don’t bark at parked cars. Dogs only chase moving objects.
If you aspire to invest your life in a noble goal; you will experience barking dogs. But you do not have to stop the car for them.
Drawing from a life time of entrepreneurial experiences and relationships with some of today’s most dynamic business leaders, founder and CEO of SCB Marketing and author of “Dogs don’t bark at parked cars”, Jeff Piersall shares core principles that are the blocking and tackling of a successful life.
- Tackling the Naysayers
- Overcoming Fear
- Social Enterprise
- Medicating Entrepreneurship
- Paying it Forward
- and much more
Have a Listen:
You can find out more about Jeff here: