The fictions start when we’re young.
Santa Claus is coming to town. Oh yeah? Well, hopefully he isn’t traveling on the New York area transit system, which seems to be making two types of stops these days: late and later.
Certainly, young children can and should revel in the stories that animate this time of year, when cold and snow usually replace warm and bright weather.
And yet it might be a good time to reflect on the myths of our youth, just to compare them to our realities. Let’s start:
• Everyone gets what they deserve or what’s coming to them. Hmm, does it seem fair or merit based that some of the finest teachers in the country, who serve as an inspiration to children year after year, earn barely enough to afford modest cars that warm up just as they arrive at school? Compare this iniquity with athletes who spit at each other, curse at their coaches, fight on the field and charge people for autographs, yet are earning exorbitant salaries to play children’s games.
• It’s the beauty on the inside that counts. That sounds nice and, in some cases, it actually plays out that way, as people cherish the character, spirit and energy of the person they meet, rather than dwelling on how much they fit the modern ideal for a man or woman. And yet for every magazine cover with a regular-looking bloke or woman, there are 10 or more who look like lithe or buff caricatures of real people.
• Slow and steady wins the race. Yeah, maybe for turtles and rabbits, but everyone is racing to win, win, win at all costs. Sure, patience and gradual steps toward a goal make sense, but a capitalist society is driven by those who are the first movers, who make the unexpected discoveries and who patent their method, idea or product first.
• Winning isn’t everything. Oh, no? It sure does seem like cause for enormous celebrations. The Winter Olympics are coming up in February. Will we revel in the effort the athletes took to get there, will we celebrate the man or woman who finishes fourth, and will we congratulate the athlete who didn’t make it to the medal round? Maybe, but then again aren’t we more likely to remember the names and achievements of those who finished first or, gulp, second?
• Be who you are. That sounds lovely, but doesn’t that depend on what state you’re in? In some states, if who you are involves altering gender expectations, that might be problematic. Yes, we are all urged to celebrate ourselves and our identity, but others don’t necessarily join the party if they feel threatened by those we embrace.
• Truth, justice and the American way. No, I’m not referring to Superman here, although those are the words from the famous comic book hero. Listening to people fight about the direction of the country suggests that the American way isn’t what it used to be. Ask President Trump, who is so fond of deriding what he describes as “fake news.” We as a nation can’t agree on truths anymore, because we have become so adept at fighting the appearance of disagreeable facts.
• Happily ever after. This catchphrase depends on whom you ask, but seems to involve riding off cheerily into some sunset aboard a horse-drawn carriage. Years like 2017 can present bumps in the road, the way acne suddenly appears on the face of a developing teenager. That doesn’t mean life won’t involve a “happily ever after.” Maybe we should revise the homily to suggest that it will likely require work, in which the payoff, down the road, is worth the challenges.