The Myths We Live By

Richard Rohr, a fabulous Franciscan who constantly illuminates in his writings, wrote recently that we are, in many ways, defined by the prevailing myths of our culture. Our defining myths, whether based in fact or not, are the background against which we measure ourselves and our society.

For instance, one might say the people to the south of us once believed every man started from common ground and that any man could aspire to greatness. Canadians once believed we were strong, kind, firm, caring, polite, respectful, respected and egalitarian in nature.

Mr. Rohr noted that the current mythic statement about North Americans seems to be that we are either producers or consumers, or perhaps, both. He went on to draw a parallel from that mythic statement to current rates of depression among North Americans.

Imagine being defined in such a way. One either produces, or one consumes, or one does the former, to carry out the latter. I’m not a social scientist, nor am I a psychologist, but I wonder if Richard Rohr doesn’t have the right of it.

That might also explain why so much of the recent Federal Election campaign appeared to be targeted at producers and consumers. More money in your pocket, more money from their pockets, more money spent in your interests, my vote will be determined by your wishes, and your wishes alone….

Our leaders seem to believe we are consumed by the interests of producers and consumers. Our media seems to believe we are only interested in what affects us as producers and consumers. Our new Prime Minister seemed to echo that belief, in a conversation with the US President on balancing the production/consumption cycle (the economy) with the life sustaining cycle (the environment).

Not that he’s alone. Every party with an elected MP has policy that aims at some sort of balance between the two. All are pragmatic about choices before us and steps that must be taken to husband the production/consumption cycle while keeping a weather-eye on the relations that sustain us.

What would it be like if we changed the myth? Most of us believe in something beyond narrowly defined self-interest. Few would appreciate epitaphs listed as bank balances or inventory sheets. Especially if they carried a full accounting of the parts of creation that paid the price for status: climates changed; acidic, fished out oceans filled with plastic; children labouring in garment factories and mines; third world farmers chained to first world debt; rivers toxic to all forms of life; indigenous populations driven from their lands; species wiped out; marginalized women disappearing from our streets.

What would it be like if we changed the myth? If we decided we are a people who live in deep relationship with all of creation. A people who value life and the earth systems that sustain life above all else. A people who accepted, acknowledged and acted upon our commonly felt urge to transcendence. A people who hallowed one another, their relations, and their place as part of creation?

I wonder what it would be like if we became grounded in the assurances of love, blessing and belonging that our faith traditions try to articulate. Would we change our myths and thereby change our world?

Keith Simmonds