Also, eagles don't asphyxiate crows. Sorry! It's time to debunk some fakelore.
Humans like stories. Some humans can deal with complex narratives, multiple characters, metaphors, a range of human emotions, and subtext, feeling empathy for the plethora of fictional characters and situations. Others people prefer simple, clean, prose with only has one character, clear descriptions that all lead to a happy ending with none of that pesky grey on the way. Unfortunately, the number of people who can appreciate the full gamut of the human experience is few.
Shaped by late stage tech capitalism we’re being reduced to ‘gramable characters of ourselves with all the gory details almost literally filtered out. All this unfact checked trite superficial bullshit is easy, it’s a nice story that helpfully neglects the complex’s realms of neuroscience, psychology, and physics (how the fuck do two full grown wolves fit inside a human let alone have enough space to fight?)
Now there’s nothing wrong with having a yarn and spinning a tale — even if it is a bit of a shit one. The problem arises when we’re so bombarded by these simple black/white narratives which just do not stack up with out insanely complex lived experience. They start to make us feel shit. If I could only tame that wolf. Next thing you know your YouTube recommendations are all videos about how to tame wild animals and your Insta ads are all at home surgery kits.
The weird thing is that Seneca kinda foresaw all of this. His works are littered with aphorisms which, 2000 years later, still ring true.
To boil this all down to one pithy quote — and tie up this little story where I’ve railed against little narratives which fit nicely in gift wrapped boxes replete with bow — here is Seneca:
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality”
And I think this is the case. But modern living has robbed us of many real fears. We still use a simple lens to project that fear gap out onto the crisp white wall of modernity. But the lens was meant for actually hurtful things — Eg your entire city being burnt by a psychopath, or Sabretooth tiger attack, things it makes sense to reduce your reality down to a simple narrative so you can survive. But for us now, with these things we frightening that can’t physically hurt us, that lens doesn’t work, but the consequence is simple stories that leave us frustrated and angry and unaware why, unless you tease it out on a comment on Josh’s web log.
Does that make sense. I didn’t sleep well last night.
Interesting you should post about the wolf parable!
For my coaching work I’m learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and was listening to a podcast interview (ironically, on a podcast called The One You Feed) with Russ Harris, who is an excellent writer on the topic. Check him out (The Happiness Trap should be required reading). Anyway, he doesn’t like the metaphor, because he thinks as long as the wolves are fighting neither will win - better to have the wolves learn to coexist and make peace with each other, to co-operate and work together, because neither can dominate the other for long.
Tis I - still playing reading catch up! Another of those BS sayings that LinkedIn and TEDx looove to talk about getting out of your comfort zone is the boiling frog apologue - the whole 'a frog with let itself be boiled alive if you just slowly raise the temperature, but if you drop it into boiling water it will jump out'. Everytime it's mentioned I become that insufferable 'UM ACTUALLY' person because what everyone fails to mention is that those frogs in the slowly boiling water HAD THEIR BRAINS REMOVED!
Another great post, thanks Josh. One of my go-to aphorisms is "This Too Shall Pass." It appears to do a lot of heavy lifting and makes the person invoking it sound generally wise and profound, even as you realise that it does double-duty for both the "difficult" times as well as the good times - a reminder of the impermanence of everything.
One aphorism/inspirational quote I have embedded into my life over the last year is this - stop crossing oceans for people who won't even jump puddles for you. It's helped me to recognise my tendency to go over the top for others, even when they fail to even acknowledge my existence. It's entirely metaphorical - no actual oceans crossed, and not looking for anyone to go puddle jumping with me - but unlike those fakelore examples it can lead to some positive life-changing perspectives.
I'm also enamoured with "disappointing affirmations." They appeal to my nature of being slightly pessimistic at times, a slightly warped sense of humour, and trying not to take myself too seriously. Instead of yet another sappy inspirational quote, it's sometimes grounding to remind yourself "you're doing the best you can; thankfully no-one expects too much from you" (credit to Paula Harris on The Spinoff - https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/28-01-2023/the-power-of-the-disappointing-affirmation)
I have way too many activity tracking apps...that simple one sounds great! Although, getting closer to the half-century mark, I think a LOT lately about trying to be more content with myself as is (especially in some very specific areas) and letting natural, sort of generic feedback tell me what I need to know (do I have good relationships? Is my job more good than bad? Am I mostly staying out of the hospital/dr's offices? Can I pay my bills without too much worry? etc) about the kind of person I am/want to be.
Yes! Fakelore gives me the absolute sh*ts. I was looking for a diary one time and was thumbing through one that had daily inspirational quotes. They had attributed something like “live, laugh, love” to Socrates.
I love your activity tracking form. I’ve found habit tracking apps end up just making me anxious for not “completing” something so I end up hating the activity that I should be enjoying. The surveys and graphs feel more like non-judgmental data that you can choose what you’d like to do with it
The success meme showed up as a grey box and I was trying to work out the correlation of success to grey boxes... until the picture loaded.
Maybe I’m interneting wrong, but I’ve never come across the Cherokee fake lore or the eagle vs crow “inspiration” online. Though the Seinfeld streak is often mentioned in the writing forums. I’ve been using a nugget from Atomic habits & working to build a new habit on one that is already set in stone - I guess it’s about what works for the individual which is about the most unhelpful self-help advice ever 😂
I’m just stoked to finally have the term “LinkedIn hustlebro” to describe what I’ve been despising about LinkedIn.
I use it to check people’s companies/job titles which I need to do quite a bit in my work, but always die a little when I accidentally end up on my “feed”...