Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Rhonda’s series on Ernest Becker’s ideas:
Part 1: What Makes You Human?
“Once upon a time there lived a little boy name Tom. He was brave, strong and he always obeyed his mommy…” and so each story would begin.
Every afternoon my little hero would meet a bear, a lion, go into the dark woods, or find a treasure. Each story led to a decision to be made, and our hero always chose what was right even when his faithful companion Little Bear (the scraggly teddy) did not. Every story would end the same–”because Tom always”…my voice would soften and fade as my own four-year-old Tommy would drift off to sleep.
When there are mountains of sand to conquer and frogs to capture, little boys find it hard to take time for a nap. However, I needed one desperately, so I made up wild stories to settle down my adventurous boy and feed his imagination. All in hopes of holding him still along enough for sleep to pin him down.
Until I read what Earnest Becker had to say about heroes, I hadn’t given those days of tale-spinning, or heroes for that matter, much thought.
“Two centuries of modern anthropological work have accumulated a careful and detailed record of this natural genius of man: anthropologist found that there were any number of different patterns in which individuals could act, and in each pattern they possessed a sense of primary value in a world of meaning. As we said earlier, short of natural catastrophe, the only time life grinds to a halt or explodes in anarchy and chaos, is when a culture falls down on its job of constructing a meaningful hero-system for its members.” Ernest Becker, [Emphasis mine]
What stories do you tell your children?
Perhaps a more important question we, as parents need to ask, is what stories are the culture telling our children? What are the childhood heroes we, as a culture, are providing?
If in fact, Becker is correct and the only time life grinds to a halt or erupts in chaos is when the culture falls down on its job of constructing a hero system–we could be in more trouble than we thought. Although, I think we’ve always known it deep down–that’s why we are so disgusted with the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. At one time they held the admiration of young children.
What if Cyrus and Bieber aren’t the problem? What if, it goes deeper than that?