Sinning Against the Load
Last weekend I took my son and daughter to Dairy Queen. For the record my son is 5, or will be 5 at the end of the month here, and my daughter 8. We sitting in the back eating, and in comes this huge guy; by huge I mean fat. I didn’t really pay a whole lot of mind to it, but as he was approaching the register my daughter leans forward and says quietly to me, “That guy must come here a lot.” At the moment I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about until she pointed it out. Then of course I laughed and said, “Kylie, that’s not nice. Just because he’s overweight doesn’t mean he eats here a lot.” Then I said something along the lines of, “You never know, maybe he’s eating off the low fat menu.”
I’ve been thinking about that incident with my daughter on and off for the last week now. Did I say the right thing? I don’t want her laughing at overweight people everywhere she goes, pointing and snickering. Should I have told her that it wasn’t funny at all? Then what? Should I be telling what’s funny and what’s not funny? Somewhere mid week the words of Joseph Campbell rang in the form of a musing on Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”. I went as follows:
In a kind of parable, Nietzsche describes what he calls the three transformations of the spirit. The first is that of the camel, of childhood and youth. The camel gets down on his knees and says, "Put a load on me." This is the season for obedience, receiving instruction and the information your society requires of you in order to live a responsible life. But when the camel is well loaded, it struggles to its feet and runs out into the desert, where it is transformed into a lion -- the heavier the load that had been carried, the stronger the lion will be. Now, the task of the lion is to kill a dragon, and the name of the dragon is "Thou shalt." On every scale of this scaly beast, a "thou shalt" is imprinted: some from four thousand years ago; others from this morning's headlines. Whereas the camel, the child, had to submit to the "thou shalts," the lion, the youth, is to throw them off and come to his own realization.
And so, when the dragon is thoroughly dead, with all its "thou shalts" overcome, the lion is transformed into a child moving out of its own nature, like a wheel impelled from its own hub. No more rules to obey. No more rules derived from the historical needs and tasks of the local society, but the pure impulse to living of a life in flower.
I imagine many people in that situation would have just said, “That’s not funny!”. Then add something along the lines of, “It’s not nice to make fun of people that way.”. Now we’ve just packed a load on our child’s back, without even knowing we did it. It seems to me there’s a fine line between packing such a load and allowing them to be themselves. But of course in this instance (and others like it) Nietzsche’s reflection shines through with a blinding light. He’s quite right, and perhaps the line isn’t so thin after all.
We don’t even realize that we’re essentially conditioning our children to find certain things funny, while at the same time find others not so funny. By the time they’re adults they’ll be walking around with so much baggage we’ll be unable to tell the difference between their social laugh and their real one, and neither will they. As a sort of example; every so often it’ll happen that I tell a joke (suppose it’s at work) and there’s always one individual who will instinctively give an initial half chuckle, then immediately there after regain control and finish with a sort scoff and departure that says, “That’s not funny. How dare you deceive me like that.”. In effect they’re mad at me because I brought to the surface their true laughter. More importantly it was revealed to me, and anyone else present, that they find something funny which represents a load they’ve been carrying around, something they’ve been told by parents, teachers, clergy, etc. not to laugh at, and now I’ve just caused them to “sin against the load”. Hm, it’s not me keeping you from yourself. If they just would have laughed maybe they would have seen a little glimmer of something.
So therein lies the paradox; to find oneself, or to stay true to convention. It’s interesting that that which leads to knowledge of oneself also stands as a sin against god, or a sin against convention. It’s not enough to understand Zen by just laughing at the joke, you have to at the time be laughing at yourself, and indeed ourselves… The very thing we’ve been told not to all these years….