It’s frightening really to think about and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’m talking about that feeling that comes over me when I realize that I’m living in a country, and have been for a very long time, that never learned the lesson of the boy who cried wolf. As a nation we’re getting into the climax of the story now when the boy cries wolf and no one comes to help him. In the more tragically realistic versions of the story this is when the wolf eats the boy. Lesson learned, I guess.
The great classics aren’t always taught at home or in schools these days and Bullwinkle’s very educational show was cancelled long ago, which is unfortunate being that these stories contain some of the cornerstones of what was once called wisdom. Now there’s a word that has gone out of style, wisdom, not through any fault of its own, it just isn’t used very often these days in the main stream. It’s a shame to lose it too, such a pretty word. It flows through the mouth like water from a spring and out into the air like a big, fluffy cloud, wisdom.
Anyway the story is from the Aesop collection of stories that were read to children a lot back….back then, back in “the old days” which are still considered the old days even when they happen right now! More strangeness I suppose. So the boy is watching sheep, which is another old timey thing to do, at least that’s what he’s supposed to be doing, and not having a cell phone (no cell phones in those days), he starts to get bored, mighty bored, which children are not allowed to do now days.
So there he is, watching sheep and getting bored and he has, what we soon come to find, is a foolish idea. The boy thinks it would be interesting, funny and less boring if he were to shout out, wolf, wolf loud and long enough to arouse the people in the peaceful little village. (We can assume that it’s a peaceful village, although in some versions they may not come right out and say so).
So he goes to it, “wolf – wolf” he cries out and sure enough, the villagers jump up, grab their clubs and slingshots and rush out to save the boy and the sheep that he is watching. The boy hides behind a rock and watches, laughing at all the villagers rushing out to battle the imaginary wolf. After a while he comes out and tells the people with their clubs and slingshots that the wolf ran off, so they go on home.
Well this was such a hoot for this bored little boy that after a couple days, he tries it again, and again and again. Each time the villagers rally themselves for battle against the wolf and each time they arrive to find the sheep and the boy but no wolf.
It was getting on towards fall when the grass starts to run thin and the sheep are brought into glean the farmers’ fields. The boy was picking-up stones to throw at flowers when, as he lifted his eyes from the ground he finds himself staring at a big gray wolf just about to grab a lamb from behind. “Wolf! Wolf!” the boy shouts out loud and clear but this time, although they heard his voice calling for help, no one grabs their clubs or slingshots and no one comes running out. “There’s never a real wolf when we get there”, they say to one another, “I think we’re being played” added a few others with their comments.
And so the wolf eats the sheep (and in some of the more realistic versions) the little boy too! The moral (another endangered word) of the story (Aesop always had a moral) was that if you lie to your neighbors, they might believe you at first but then, when you really need them to believe you, they don’t. Now some, the more patriotic and militaristic among us, may think that this story is about wolves and enemies and battle preparedness and so on because of the wolf as enemy and all that but it’s not. It’s not about that, it’s about how if you lie to your neighbors over and over again, after a while they quit believing you; in fact they eventually quit hearing you at all. Now the author of this story, Aesop, we are told, played it well by choosing the perspective of the boy with the wolf as the antagonist because that added that extra element of fear, danger and death to the story, it could have just as well been the story of a boy with an amazingly large fish or something like that. Either way we find from our story that if you lie too much people eventually just quit listening to you. This brings me to the main point of this piece which you have likely figured by now. We live in a world, and particularly, we live in a nation, where there is constantly and continuously some boy in our midst crying wolf.
Now I bring this up because there appears to be a wolf, some I think might say, maybe even a pack of wolves, circling in for the kill. Now I don’t want to be spreading false alarms so let me say, it’s not really wolves that are surrounding the sheep, its other stuff, but yes…we are the sheep. The wolves are: Our deteriorating health, climate catastrophe, wars, pandemics, poverty and all those other things that threaten our lives and rob us of our joy. I’m sure you know the things I’m talking about. I’m talking about all those very serious matters that people should not be lied to about. Do you sometimes think you’ve been lied to by the shepherds who were picked to watch over you? I sometimes do and maybe even more than sometimes.
So what’s my point? Sure we all get lied to, we get lied to constantly and continuously and tragically we are being lied to by those who are mandated with the task of watching over us, watching over our health, our environment, our security and defense, watching over, unless you live in a cave, nearly every aspect of our lives and with the pandemic and climate catastrophe upon us even troglodytes may be in real danger. Here in this moment when we should all be running out to face the wolfs, about half the nation doesn’t believe that there is a wolf and considering all the lies we’ve been told over the years about everything from Columbus to covid and climate change, it should not surprise anyone that we are having a hard time mustering the troops. This we see, as in the story of the boy and his village, is one of the real dangers of the lies that are told, not just that we might believe the lies but that we will at some crucial point, we will not believe the truth.
Now I’m not going to sit here and try to tell everyone which things are lies and which things are true. You will have to dig around for that yourself. I am going to say though that we don’t take the matter of truth and the need for truth and true information seriously enough, not nearly. We collectively watch as the very top people in our government, our media and the corporations that control both lie to us over and over again and there are no consequences, no punishment, hardly even a complaint against them for doing so. This I believe may be the greatest failure of us as citizens of this country that we allow these people who are supposed to be watching out for us and informing us to lie to us with impunity.
It’s no wonder then that we have become a dysfunctional nation, unable to lift ourselves up, horribly divided against one another and unable to address the very real concerns that face this nation and the world. I think that if there is only one thing that you can do for this country that best and most helpful thing would be to stop lying, stop believing lies and learn to hold ourselves and each other up to the truth. Our lives are going to depend on it someday.