Princes and Poverty, Genetics, History and Heroes
Copyright 2011, John Manimas Medeiros
This is a story of stories -- how our stories tell us who we are and what we worry about. Many of our stories are about nobility and commonality, about wealth and poverty, about heroes who rise up from humble birth or humble beginnings. Consider one of the most archetypal stories, the story of Cinderella. Cinderella is a "little cinder." She is from dust and ash, dirt. Cinderella is a social outcast as a youth because her parents are gone. We do not even know how or why. She is without her parents and therefore she is without protection, without social status or economic place. She is poor. She has mean-spirited step-sisters. Cinderella is made to be the hard-working servant of the household. She does the dirty work. She is not appreciated by her step-mother or her step-sisters. They use her and mock her. But Cinderella has something powerful inside. She is of noble character.
Cinderella works but does not consider work to be beneath her. She is close to nature and she appreciates what is natural and the beauty of nature. She dreams that someday "her prince will come." Some day a man who understands her, who sees her as the good and beautiful person that she is, will join with her to create a family. Her dream of a prince is not the dream of a real prince, of royalty, of a mate and husband of noble lineage. But this is perhaps what all poor girls dream of, being rescued from poverty and vulnerability, of being protected from the fate of diminutive social status. To be worthy of a higher station in life and in society, the right way, is to be of noble character inside. And Cinderella does meet that standard. Her "fairy godmother" saves her by touching her with a magic wand that enables her inner beauty to come out. Cinderella goes to the Prince's ball, a real Prince at a real event, wearing not only a beautiful gown but also glass slippers. This story of the glass slipper is astounding for this unique object found in no other story. Think about what is so special about the story of Cinderella, a poor working girl being desired and wedded by a Prince. What is unusual, inspiring, about this story? Why does this story excite the human soul? Because one partner is rich and the other is poor, and in reality, this is the most unlikely and most resisted of marriages in virtually every human culture. Where there are distinct classes, a strong social and economic hierarchy, the upper classes, the nobles, are not supposed to mix with the lower classes, the poor and the uneducated. The differences between the noble and the base or the masses are deemed to be ingrained, embedded, genetic in quality. The noble is noble by birth, and the serf is poor and simple by birth -- the character of each person is both a physical and moral reality expressed in the person. The two do not belong together, or so the story seems to say. How important is this? How important to the essence of the story? Would we be as interested and as moved by the story if both partners were of the same social class, but one was Irish and the other Italian? Or if one was Catholic and the other was Jewish? Or Moslem? One dark, the other light? If the boy and the girl, or the man and the woman, are of equal social and economic class, other differences do not appear to overturn the rules of society nearly as much as when one is "noble" and wealthy and the other is "ordinary" or poor. Why is this so?
Let's get back to the glass slipper, or glass shoe. This is truly unique and strange. Shoes or "slippers" for dancing are invariably made of cloth or leather. For some purposes, heavy shoes may include wood, metal fasteners, rubber. But no one has ever heard of or seen a slipper made of glass. What kind of story is this? Why would a slipper be made of glass? What is magical, or good or useful about a slipper made of glass? It is the most ridiculous material to use for a shoe or slipper. It is brittle, would surely crack and break if one tried to walk or dance in a glass slipper. So what does this mean, in this fantasy story about a poor girl being loved by a noble Prince. Why does he love her? He loves her, if one thinks about it, because she is wearing a glass slipper! Because she is transparent, and genuine. Her character is visible underneath the surface. She is in fact of truly noble character. She knows how to work and does not deem herself to be too good to work. She is beautiful. She is connected to nature and she does not seek to be married into wealth, but only to be married into love and happiness, into a life where what one believes in is real and not just a dream. So, we see, the underlying theme of the story is about genetics -- the person who seems to be ordinary and base and having no access to freedom and what is precious in life, actually has all that and more. Her source is the dust and the dirt of society. She is abandoned, seems to be unconnected, has lost her parentage and her source. She has no "pedigree," but in reality she is the most genuine of all nobility because her nobility is in her flesh and blood, in her soul. She is noble by personal merit. She is noble by character, and that means she is noble by virtue of her genes. Her nobility is not given to her or inherited from a social class; neither is it assigned to her because of her appearance or good fortune. She is noble because of her essence, because of who and what she is inside. This story is a story of genetics. Nobility of character, the worth of the individual is not something inherited by class or social station or wealth. Nobility of character, those who can do the work, the heroes of society and of humankind, are to be found everywhere and anywhere. Genetic reality is something of a mystery. We cannot trust our eyes to see who is a hero, who is the kind of person that we will admire and trust to lead society. What does this have to do with history and heroes? Everything. Look at our stories again, our stories of heroes, and what they do, and their origins.
How often is the story of a hero the story of a person, male or female, who has humble origins but rises up to demonstrate possession of wisdom, justice, righteousness, and determination from deep within, in the soul, in the spirit, in nobility of character? This story is told over and over again. It is found in ancient myths and fairy tales, in fables, in songs, in poems, and when we develop the technology of film the same stories are told over and over again. Stories of pirates who are more noble in spirit and more just in action than the lazy and empty rich. The poor boy who works and studies and learns and becomes a great soldier, or inventor, or engineer or scientist, or just evolves, like Pinocchio, from a wooden character to a real character, someone who is genuine and who is "self-actualizing." The heroes of our literature act out their dramas in many settings, but the essential process of the action is always the same: the hero creates himself, or herself. They discover the power and the will within, the capacity within. Through work and self-discipline, through learning and growth, what was once insignificant and weak becomes strong and effective. The hero overcomes evil. The hero renders justice, protects the weak who are exploited by the selfish and unjust. This story is so common it is practically the theme of all stories. Think of any story or film that you like or remember as inspiring: The Karate Kid, Rocky, Norma Rae, The Color Purple, Robin Hood, The Prince of Persia, even the stories of Jesus and of Mohammed are stories of persons of humble birth rising up to lead the world. Often the story tells us that the humility of poverty is a ragged dress covering a noble ancestry. Though Jesus was born in a manger, we are told, he was a descendant of King David. So, when we examine the story, pick it apart, we find again and again that the nobility of character we discover in our heroes is there within by nature. It is not something that blossoms entirely on its own, but it is a seed invisibly planted. The noble character needs to be nurtured and grown, but it is there from the beginning; it is there from the beginning of time. It is genetic.
What are we trying to tell ourselves? Let's look now at the real stories -- not myths or fables or movies but our history. Consider, for example, the French Revolution. What was that about? Was it not about resisting the attitude of a decadent nobility, the attitude that they were naturally better, naturally noble or refined or worthy, without having to do anything? No action was required on their part, they seemed to say. They were noble by the grace of God and they did not need to demonstrate nobility of character in any way. Their place in society was simply to enjoy their exalted status. Their job was to be rich, and hedonistic, take and use whatever they wished, including people. But the common people rose up and said "No!" Nobility of character is to be found in the soul of society. We want and we believe in "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." We believe in the connectedness of all people. We believe in the equal access to nobility of character in all people. There is no divine right of kings or of nobles. No one is automatically better than others, and no one is automatically in possession of nobility of character. The poor and the lowly also have access to nobility of character.
What is being said to us? What are we telling ourselves? when John Locke argues that every child is born with a mind that is like a "tabula rasa" or a "clean slate"? What are we saying to ourselves when we say that "all men are created equal."? Does it mean that we are all precisely and exactly the same? No, definitely not. We are all different. We are different by genetic heritage and we are different by virtue of our childhood experience and the events on our life journey that contribute to our development of personality and character. However, we all have equal access to nobility of character. There is no law that says we each can be only the predictable product of our experience. We are not simple. Genetics are not simple. We are not made or created like a hammer or an engine is made. There is something within the human seed, the human embryo, the human being, that gives each of us our own access to nobility of character. We all can wear a glass slipper that reveals who we are beneath the surface. We all can become worthy of knowledge and power, the ability to not only state what is just but to create justice in society. Leaders arise from anywhere and everywhere. This is the theme of history. Soldiers, warriors, artists, inventors, scientists, actors, writers, builders, those who change history as though it were their bedroom wall to be decorated by them, arise from the mists of human society like heroes who have mysterious origins. The mystery is always there, in genetics. Somehow, though we search constantly for cause and effect, for an explanation of what makes people who they are, the answer is always far more complex than we can imagine. It seems to be out of reach. And so our stories and our myths, even our religions, tell us that nobility of character is like magic. Heroic action cannot be predicted or guaranteed. Events call for resolution. Problems call for solutions. Danger calls for salvation. The Hero arrives, in time, on a horse, on a donkey, on a bus, or on foot, puzzling at first, does not look like what we expected, and the world is changed as though by a sudden bolt of lightning. Who was that? Where did he/she come from? From the street, from the mud, from some town that no longer exists, from a drunken father and a mad mother, from out of our confusion. What all of our stories are telling us is that we cannot rely upon the surface signs to detect nobility of character. The body is an imperfect tool; it does not always reveal its capacity and its potential. We cannot even rely on our own science. We are now, and for the foreseeable future, mysterious. Genetics are mysterious. We just have to be watching carefully, all the time, for the nobility of character that we need, and not build our fences too high or our walls too strong. The hero we need may be on the other side.
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