The Myth of Must
Recently thousands of people have been forced to flee their homeland or die. They have no clear vision of where they are going or what their life will be like but they know what will happen if they stay and so they feel they have to leave. If they wish to stay alive and give their children any chance at life at all, the answer of whether to undertake the unknown and treacherous journey is simple …They must. While no one can fault a parent or another human being for doing what they can to preserve life, there is another type of “must” that affects us all in a much less severe way but that can be just as deadly. It is the mythology of must.
We often think of peer pressure as something that only affects children but in reality, peer pressure is something that affects us all. Young people are leaving their lives to become part of terrorist cells because the social online presence is a type of peer pressure. Just like a supposedly cool kid at school who offers other students drugs, these radical unhealthy groups offer the promise of popularity, of purpose, or being a part of the “cool crowd”.
Adults face peer pressure but it often is in the form of competition. And just like the kids at school, we often fall prey to the myth of must because we too want to be liked. The easiest example of this type of mythology is the child who throws a temper tantrum in the store to get a certain toy. The parent often gives in, feeling they “must”, because they do not wish to be considered a bad parent or to become the object of other shopper’s attention as their child throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the store.
There are other examples, of course, of this type of myth, this peer pressure that we all feel. It might be in someone purchasing a certain type of car – the old “everyone is buying this” excuse. It can be something as minor as a type of pencil or color of handbag, to something a bit more necessary like a certain style of clothing or shoes. It might be a particular address or “the right side of town in which to buy a home” or a popular after work pub or bar. Let’s be honest – we all are followers of the mythology of “must”.
Peer pressure is not always an obvious thing and neither is the feeling that someone “must” adhere to the societal norms, even when doing exactly opposite of the more common societal norms. It can be as direct as someone telling you what to do. However, it can be a subconscious activity that is associated with a location or group of friends. I once had a friend who only drank coffee away from home in large group settings. Coffee was not something he associated with home but something that was a “must” at the workplace and at large meetings.
Many American Indian mythologies were less about past events like creation and more about how one should live. Today’s post is actually yesterday’s post because yesterday was a “relaxation day”. I cannot fully explain how often yesterday I thought about this post and how I was not writing it. Usually, I think about the post for about two hours but yesterday, I thought about it every hour. Not writing it was an exercise in my own personal “must”. To be sure, my relaxation day probably was not as casually relaxing as it could have been. I put up two fences and repaired a third; I moved some very large and heavy antique furniture; I began to organize some bookcases. During all of my physically exhausting relaxation, I continually thought about the fact that I was not writing the post for that day.
I decided about eighteen months ago to make this a daily blog posting and I made a conscious decision not to make the posts all about me, what I ate, what I wore, who I saw, etc. About six months later, my day had gotten behind and I was frantic at my posting for the day being late. A family member asked why I was so upset and when I explained asked who was putting the deadline on me to write the post before midnight. It was an excellent question which brought up a great point and a huge part of the myth of “must”. The answer was no one. No one was making me post anything that day, no one except me, myself, and I. I was revisiting that conversation in my head Friday night and so I decided that Saturday I would test myself. Could I not post something? I got confess…it was hard not to write!
In our busy lives and in a world that revolves around competition, we often are our best allies and worst enemies – all because of the myth of must. Being mature means doing what is best for ourselves and the world. It is not about fancy cars, expansive homes, snazzy clothes, etc. It is not even about who has the most toys. It is about owning our lives and being responsible, not just for ourselves but for our world.
The mythologies of the indigenous people of almost every location but especially in the Western Hemisphere focused on living together, living in peace. War is not friendly to our environment nor does it help our planet. Turning away refugees and putting labels on people alienates; it does not unite. The natural world is full of proof of the saying “United we stand; divided we fall”. Did you know this saying comes from a collection of mythologies?
There are illustrations similar to the original myth from which this quote comes from. The stories are basically the same. A group of people, a family of sons in the original Greek myth, are bickering and not getting along. The patriarch gives each a stick and asks them to break it which each member does. Then the patriarch bundles the sticks together and gives each person a chance to break them bundled together. They cannot. Hence, the moral of Aesop’s myth – “United we stand; divided we fall”.
When we allow ourselves to give in to the mythology of “must”, we give away a bit of our individuality. If I purchase something because I like it, that is fine. If I purchase it because of peer pressure, some group has made me feel I “must”, then I am giving away some of my personal power and individuality, that which makes me…well, me!
Conformity is not necessarily wrong but it must benefit the individual and not some arbitrary leader or group. The greatest thing we have to offer the world is not a label of being most popular but a label of being the very best “we” that is possible. I cannot be a great you but I can be a fantastic me.