franciscogoya-Saturn-Eating-CronusAs we have learned in this series so far, fairy tales are ironic. They tell a truth so shocking that it can only be revealed in innocent children’s stories. 2500 years ago, in Plato’s Republic, Socrates said the truth exposed in these stories was so dangerous that they should not be allowed to be read by children at all!

Socrates spoke about one of the earliest Greek myths, the story of the origins of the universe. In this story, Uranus hated his children so much that he buried them in the darkest place. Then his son, Cronus, castrated him. Cronus received a prophecy that he would be dethroned by his children, so he ate them.

Socrates responded to these tales by saying,

“The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him. . .ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.”

What these tales tell us is that the wounded parent has been wounding the child since the beginning of things. Our pain is not the fault of our immediate forebears, our parents, and the wounds that we inflict as parents are the result of a multi-generational pattern that goes back to the earliest times.

As parents, with this knowledge, we have the opportunity to break this cycle and to do our part in healing a broken world. As Confucius said,

“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; to cultivate our personal life we must first set our hearts right.”

The creators of fairy tales were in touch with their own child-like nature and so understood things from the child’s point of view. The intent of the inventors of these stories was less to entertain the child and more to return the parent to the child’s world.  Parents need to read fairy tales so they can understand how their children experience them. The harsh lesson of the stories is not one that a child can say directly to the parent and so the story does it for them.  If we can listen to the hidden message, then we can understand what we need to do to become better parents.

From ancient times,  the creators and tellers of the tales were old women. What were the lessons these elders were trying to teach? These women were actually engaging in a subversive act. These crones were able to reach across the generations and communicate on a subtle level the hidden truths about life. They were saying, “Watch out for your parents, and don’t worry, there is a way out.”

These tellers of tales validated the child’s emotional reactions to their world. Children respond to the stories because unconsciously they feel grateful that someone acknowledges their reality, albeit in disguised, symbolic, form.

When the child asks about the story, “Is it true?” they are secretly saying, “Mom, I want you to know that the story is true. You hurt me and make me feel bad about myself, but I can’t tell you.” When the grown up gives their ironic answer by saying “No, this is just a fairy tale,” the secret message to the child is “I understand now what it is that I do, and I’ll do whatever I need to so that I won’t do it anymore.”

Before saying that children should not be exposed to the shocking truth of the murderous rage of the father against the son, Socrates had a hard time accepting the truth of such stories. He said,

“First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies, in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too, –I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him.”

Before accepting the truth of their own destructive impulses, parents sometimes denigrate fairy stories because they confirm their worst fears about themselves. Denying the reality that we harm our children in big or small ways makes a significant contribution to the problem in the first place. By evading our responsibility, the child ends up believing they are the problem, and this is how they develop shame, or the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. The child comes to believe that if they are being treated poorly by their parents it must be their own fault.

The fairy tales are a way for the the true facts to be introduced to the parent without eliciting this denial and getting the child into trouble. Fairy stories try to make it easy on grown ups by critiquing them without the listener knowing what is going on. In this way, the parent can hear these important lessons about themselves.

For example, the modern story, The Emperor’s New Clothes says to the parents that they are self-absorbed hypocrites, and it is the “child” in the story who reveals this. The story itself symbolizes the process of confronting the parent with their character flaws. The child in the story is the only one who has the guile to reveal the naked truth about the king. Because the story is supposedly about someone fatuous and ridiculous, the parents are not offended. But if they are open to the message, they know the story is about them. Can we grown ups face the truth in these stories? This is the great task, because without it, we will repeat the crimes reported in the tales.

From the earliest times, these stories were told in groups, and adults listened and heard them as well as children. This is still the way it is today. Grown-ups bring their children to see plays like The Lion King, or movies like Coraline. The structure of these fairy tales are barely different than the stories told 5000 years ago. Parents may resonate with them more profoundly than the children, as we have a greater appreciation of the depth of their message. Parents were children once, too, and they had parents, as well. We know the ways we have been wounded by our predecessors and we intuit the ways that we harm our children despite our best intentions.

Here is the message we parents are offered when we enter the world of fairy tales. In a great chain from the beginning of time, you were hurt by your forebears and your society. This has resulted in your having a lost heart. This means that you have not fully realized your universe-given capacities for thinking, feeling, acting, imagining and loving. You are not fully being that which you are meant to be. The result is that you cannot give to your children all that they need to optimally realize these same potentials themselves. In some way, great or small, you are passing down the wounds to the next generation.

The stories then go on to tell us that this does not have to be. You can leave your old ways of being behind. You can liberate yourself from the constrictions imposed on you from without. You can free your capacity for growth become wise, passionate, strong, creative, and loving. You can heal. You can find your heart. The stories tell us that as parents, this is our charge and obligation. The stories demand this of us, because humanity is striving to end this cycle of wounding, shame and self-limitation. In order for the world to survive and thrive, we need to live a life of self-cultivation, where we heal our wounds, liberate our children, and fix a broken world.

The stories provide hope for all children and grown ups who are still spellbound by a giant ogre. The stories tell us that there is a force in the universe which will come to our aid if we show the pluck and courage to fight the demon within.  The stories are revolutionary in this way. The threatening giant may keep the land under a spell for a thousand years but eventually the child in each of us can grow up and save the kingdom. As parents, if  we can free ourselves, then we will not continue the cycle by becoming the tyrant, ourselves.

If parents take responsibility for their own imperfections by sharing the tales with their children, then there can be a relationship based on reality and acceptance. This can help move the child toward self-love and love of others. If parents can take the lessons of the tales to understand their own shortcomings, they can follow the heroic journey presented in the stories, and become King or Queen.  This means becoming a great parent.

When parents share fairy tales with their children, the parent conveys to the child that they accept what the happy ending of the story means. The parent’s main job is to surrender to the great chain of being, and enable their children to become King or Queen themselves. In the end, we need to accept our own death, and give the universe over to our children’s dominion.  Even though, this means, as sometimes happens in the stories, that the parents end up in a vat of boiling oil.

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PinocchioMax BaucusIn a previous post, I was accused of partisanship because I suggested that people were angry at Obama because of emotional wounds they suffered in their lives. In order to dispel the notion that I believe that only conservative Republicans have been damaged by their negative experiences, I offer a psychological interpretation of some of the self-destructive behaviors of our Democratic leaders in Congress, and to a certain extent, President Obama.

My contention is that these politicians are like bad parents. What do I mean? In order for children to realize their inherent potentials, they need parents who will consistently meet their needs. Now meeting a child’s needs does not mean meeting their wants. A child may say, “I only want to eat ice cream! I don’t want the vegetables!” They may scream, “I don’t want to share my toys! He’s going to take everything I have and I won’t have anything!” They may protest, “I don’t want to play with my brother because he is bad!” They may shriek, “I don’t want to go in my room because there is a boogie-man under my bed!” In each of these cases, (now don’t get all metaphorical on me — I never suggested that these are thinly disguised reactions of people to the health care proposals) the parent would not be giving their children what they actually needed if they succumbed to their child’s demand. The child may want to indulge their immature appetites, selfishness, cruelty, or anxious ignorance, but the parent is doing no service to the child by meeting these desires. What the child needs is for the parent to use their maturity and wisdom to make better judgments and set appropriate limits. They must help the child internalize such wisdom, prudence and courage themselves. They must teach the child that though it might seem fun to eat only ice cream, doing the harder thing — like eating a balanced diet and postponing gratification — leads to a better outcome. They must teach that our purpose on this planet is to share because we have the best individual lives when things are best for all. We must teach our children to see others with understanding and compassion and to recognize that under the skin we are all brothers and sisters. We must teach our children to face their fears and see reality as clearly as possible.

Because the world has a lost heart, in many ways the body politic is like a three-year-old. And so we hope that our leaders, while showing love, regard and respect for the mass, can also show it the love required of the good parent for a toddler. Unfortunately, all too often, Democratic politicians fail in this task. Rather than setting limits, and giving us what we really need, they become frightened themselves, and indulge their constituent’s unrealistic demands. The electorate says like a petulant six-year-old, “If you don’t give me what I want, I’m not going to like you anymore!” Because we don’t want the kids to get mad, no one dare say there is a limit to what we have, and we must decide like grownups how we are going to pay for, and share, the finite pie. Democrats won’t just come out and say that the fair thing to do is take some money from the rich so that we can end the injustice of people living without basic health care. Democratic politicians all too often say, “Oh! Don’t get mad at me! We’ll do whatever you say whether it is good for the country or not.” When people cry that this country is going to turn into a Nazi, Communist, Socialist state if everyone has health care, instead of telling the children that they must eat their vegetables, share their toys and face the boogie-man, the Democrats start talking about removing the public option. This indulgence makes the kiddies happy for a while, but like Pinocchio teaches us, when we live in a land where every day is Saturday except for Sunday, we end up turning into asses. This is the kind of bad parenting that has prevented us from really tackling the kind of economic and political pickle we find ourselves in today. The only thing worse than the Democrats being bad parents is when the children actually run the show, like when the Republicans are in power –whoops I guess I got a little partisan there.

Now why would Democrats act this way, when clearly it is against everyone’s interest? Because we learn how to be parents through the parenting we receive. Parents who did not get what they needed growing up do not develop the skills required to give their own children what they need to realize their best selves. Many people enter a public arena, in part, because they didn’t get their basic needs for love and attention met when they were young. They are dependent on the adoration of the masses for some sense of inner fullness. Without it, they would face an empty void so terrible that they will do anything to avoid it. Alice Miller taught us that this often happens when parents unconsciously use children to get their own emotional needs met. This reverses the way of nature, where parents are supposed to be there for their children, not the other way around. When this happens the children rule the house. They know that they control the parents, because they recognize that their parents need them for emotional sustenance. Though the children may get what they want in these circumstances, they don’t get what they need to truly mature.

I can only assume that this was the case for all too many politicians. Many people who get used by their parents become highly accomplished, but at their core they are emotionally desperate for an authentic sense of self. This is one manifestation of what it means to have a lost heart. In an attempt to not be abandoned, these people will do anything to keep people loving them, even if it means lying to them, or capitulating to their destructive and unreasonable demands. Then, in a repetition of what happened to the politicians as children, the constituents become like spoiled children, knowing they can get whatever they want out of their leaders. But they end up sad, because they only get what they want in the moment, and not what they really need.

2300 years ago, the Sage Mencius spent his life trying to convince the leaders of China to cultivate themselves because he was certain that this was the key to the happiness of all the people in that country. He stated that if leaders had lost hearts, that is, if our political leaders were not psychologically and emotionally strong and healthy, then everyone would suffer. Our Democratic leaders could benefit from this advice.

Hopefully in the coming weeks our leaders will find it within themselves to stand up to their petulant children, the people of America, and do the right thing. Every parent knows that it may cause immediate protest, but in the long run, everyone is happier.

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