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August Quote of the Month

August 15, 2012


Thewalruswasfaun is posting for Miriam here: this is her chosen quote and her month! We’ve been super disorganized.

Miriam says:

“The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie” is taken from an album called It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright, which is by the band mewithoutYou. I know, the names alone will sell you. There are many things that interest me about this piece of music, and actually the entire album. Each song is based on a teaching by Sufi mystic Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, I urge you to listen to the rest of the album, as each piece is remarkably beautiful. Although the message of the songs is often religious in nature, there are definitely meanings and messages that can be gleaned for a non-theistic mind.
Let’s take “The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie” as an example. Actually, this is an interesting one, because it is a story we are vaguely familiar with. Many of us grew up with “The Fox and the Crow” as an Aesop’s fable. A crow finds a piece of cheese and flies up to a branch. A fox asks for the cheese but the bird refuses, so he instead flatters the crow and asks it to sing. The crow complies, the cheese drops from his beak, and is snatched by the fox.
In the Aesop’s fable, the moral is pretty clear: pride goes before the fall, flattery will lead to tragedy. In this version though, the moral tacked on to the end of the song is a bit more complex.
Here, the Fox is there from the very beginning of the story, helping to facilitate the crow’s theft from the baker. He distracts the baker so that the crow can “snatch a shortbread cookie or a german chocolate tart”. Then, when the crow does have the treat, the fox is in turn able to get the cookie from him through the use of flattery.
Let’s think of the Fox as that source that aids us in doing wrong. Name it as a part of your own personality, an external source of evil, whatever you want. In part one of the story, the fox is the one that provides the crow with the opportunity to steal from the baker. In part two of the story, the fox then gets the treat from the crow by appealing to his sense of pride. What do these two events have in common? An attachment to worldly possessions. Through attachment to the material, instincts like greed and pride are fed, and it is only by looking for alternative ways of thinking that we can avoid such traps. Actually, I’ll turn it over to mewithoutYou, who definitely say it best:

“We’re letting all attachments go
It’s the only prayer we know
May it be so
May it be so
May it be so

Faun says:

A little tool that pops up in media and genres of all kinds is the use of a child’s viewpoint, a children’s structure (such as a nursery rhyme or story) or childlike language to put ‘adult’ themes into a different light. This song is one example, as are Aesop’s fables. They take issues which are relatively complex, that would be discussed in much greater detail were they to appear in an ‘older’ context, and simplify them. They become the one-phrase response to “and the moral of the story is…”
This song, as Miriam points out, makes a bit of a more complex argument than the fable that it’s based on. I’d like to argue, however, that while the morals drawn from media like this are useful in many situations, it’s unwise to treat them as universally true and applicable. In fact, in many cases one can find a storybook theme that builds a contradictory ‘moral of the story’. In terms of attachment to material possessions, for example, where does the theme of the old woman who treasures the objects left behind by her partner fit in? That hardly feeds pride or greed. Alternatively, the theme of a farmer with a strong connection to his/her land, or a captain to his/her ship- a person could argue that the former is greed and the latter pride, but that person would be missing part of the story.
I like stories. They have countless things to teach their readers. I also agree with most of what Miriam says- I just think that generalizing is sometimes risky. The beauty of children’s stories is that they contain valuable things, focused to a point of simplicity and clarity. But perhaps the most valuable way to use them is to never tell just one.

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