Lessons from a Modern Mythology

Lessons from a Modern Mythology

Pentecost #190


Someone asked me if I identified with the Thinking Woman.  LOL!  It is an interesting question and I will succinctly say “Yes, I do”, although probably not for the reasons one might assume.  I think most if not all women would like to be thought of as “thinking women”.  I would feel complimented of someone identified me as a “thinking woman”.  However, I actually was not considering that aspect when I thought to answer affirmatively.  The Thinking Woman or Spider Woman we discussed yesterday wove stories.  In other words she was a story teller and weaving stories into modern-day life illustrations is one of the main purposes of this blog.  The other purpose is to start conversation and get you the reader to think.


Today we conclude our series on the mythologies of the world.  Thank you for your time and comments.  During the season of Pentecost, a Christian church calendar season that celebrates the Holy Spirit, we have discussed ancient and not-so-ancient mythologies from the world, exploring and celebrating the spirits of mankind.  During our mythical world tour we also discovered how very diverse cultures had very similar deities.


Storytelling has long been used to instruct and illustrate, to educate and to recreate.  We may think of mythology as an old art form but its principles are still being used today.  Take for instance the talk given by Dr. Robert McNeish of Baltimore, Maryland in 1971. Dr. McNeish was a science teacher who happened to deliver a sermon at his church one Sunday.  His text was very similar in its usage of the spirit of one group of animals to illustrate life lessons.  Since its original speech, the text has been used by others who have become much more famous than the originator.  Still, the lessons are just as valid.


Dr. McNeish used a very common sight to those living in Maryland.  Twice a year, geese fly in formation over the rooftops and beautiful waters of the various rivers, Chesapeake Bay, and the coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.  In the fall geese are flying towards warmer southern climates.  In the spring they return to their northern homes.  Dr. McNeish sought to use stories about the habits and spirit of the geese as he created his modern mythology.  It went something like this …


Geese flying in V-formation have always been a welcome sign of spring, as well as, a sign that heralds the coming of winter. Not only is this a marvelous sight, but there are some remarkable lessons that we can learn from the flight of the geese; all they do has significance.  As each goose flaps its wings, it creates uplift for others behind it. There is 71% more flying range in V-formation than in flying alone.  Lesson:  People who share a common direction and sense of purpose can get there more quickly.


Whenever a goose flies out of formation, it feels drag and tries to get back into position. Lesson:  It’s harder to do something alone than together.


When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies at the head.  Lesson:  Shared leadership and interdependence give us each a chance to lead, as well as an opportunity to rest.


The geese flying in the rear of the formation honk to encourage those upfront to keep up their speed.  Lesson:  Encouragement is motivating.


We need to make sure our “honking” is encouraging and not discouraging.  When a goose gets sick or wounded and falls, two geese fall out of formation and stay with it until it revives or dies. Then they catch up or join another flock. Lesson:  We may all need help from time to time. We should stand by our colleagues in difficult times.


I don’t know why Dr. McNeish was speaking at his church nor do I know why he had selected geese to discuss.  Having lived in the region and having had hundreds of geese fly over my house and property, I can tell you that sight is both beautiful and …well, messy at times.  Geese will stop for a night or two and takeover an area.  Once they claim a picnic spot as their own, they can be very territorial and aggressive.  They are, no doubt, beautiful birds and it is really lovely to see them in the familiar “V” formation.


If Dr. McNeish had simply gotten up at his church and stated five facts, I’m sure his speech would not have been as memorable.  His use of a well-known, beautiful waterfowl animal made the talk interesting.  Illustrating the actions of geese and then comparing those actions to our own took away any defensiveness the listener might have felt.


The lessons from geese are life lessons about teamwork.  People who share a common direction and sense of purpose can get there more quickly.  They also encourage people to work together without feeling lesser for asking for help.  It’s harder to do something alone than together.    Geese need each other for protection, direction, and basic living.  Shared leadership and interdependence give us each a chance to lead, as well as an opportunity to rest.  We all like applause.  It is not something simply for performers on a stage.  We all need motivation in order to continue on a positive path.  Encouragement is motivating.  No one is perfect and no one person can do everything.  We may all need help from time to time.   It is easy to be popular when you have no problems but a true friend is one who will stand by you when you are having difficulties.  True friends see our hearts, not just our outer shell.  We should stand by our colleagues in difficult times.


Mythology is not just something from our past.  We are writing new mythologies every day, not just in our actions but in how we live.  Tomorrow we begin a new series.  Leonard Cohen once wrote that “Prayer is translation.  A man translates himself into a child asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered.”  Tomorrow we will begin Advent and during Advent we will explore that language, the language of prayer.  Lest you think you already know all there is to know about prayer, stay tuned.  You might just be surprised!