Parables and Proverbs

February 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

Aesop, his fables narrated often through animals, has peppered our lives with stories of good versus bad, guiding principles by which we are encouraged to live. Some historians believe he was of Nubian birth rather than Greek, which if we consider the African tradition of storytelling makes perfect sense. The Br’er Rabbit stories too come from Africa through the tales told by slaves to their children. No matter where those childhood stories, parables and proverbs come from, they all have a strong moral message.

One such adage from the Yoruba culture particularly appeals, wisdom comes from reasoning. The Yoruba, from southwestern Nigeria, southern Benin and Togo, have had a sophisticated culture since before the 11th century, told through word of mouth.

Reasonableness for me is synonymous with tolerance, and there would appear to be remarkably little of that around. So locked into our individual beliefs we are unable to look at anything from another’s point of view. Not necessarily to agree but to at least show respect and some level of understanding, as long as evil is not being propagated.

Education is, one would hope, instrumental in ensuring a more tolerant society and yet that does not always apply. Take for instance the story of the Lutheran pastor from Newtown reprimanded by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod for taking part in an interfaith vigil. The Reverend Rob Morris, by offering the benediction at a service for those intimately affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, and which included Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Baha’i leaders, as well as the President of the United States, has apparently given the impression that he condones joint worship: something I have learnt that is not permitted under Lutheran tenet.

Another story to hit the airwaves recently was the verdict of 15 years jail time for an Amish leader, Sam Mullet Sr. He showed a remarkable lack of tolerance for those who defied his authoritarian style of leadership by cutting the women’s hair and the men’s beards – both of which go directly against Amish customs for those married.  The judge in this particular case, Judge Polster reminded Mr Mullet that the Amish had benefited from the First Amendment to the Constitution, that of free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.

Then we jump across the world to Papua New Guinea where hundreds of Highlanders watched the live burning, after horrific torture, of Kepari Leniata. The death of a 6-year-old boy through witchcraft being her supposed crime, according to the child’s relatives. I haven’t been to Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands, where the travesty took place, for many years but the country is still one of the most primitive, by Western standards, places in the world.  Education is not the norm and under a 1971 law criminalising witchcraft, women, particularly widows with no familial protection, are often accused of sorcery as a way to obtain their land and property. In a country with a history of tribal warfare and cannibalism we can feel comforted that the UN have requested PNG “address increasing vigilante violence against people accused of sorcery and to revoke the controversial sorcery law”. Shades of Salem hundreds of years later.

Malala Yousufzai, shot in the Swat Valley by the Taliban on October 9th, (see blog Girls Just Want to Have Fun Oct 17) for demanding an education for girls, has just been released from a British hospital. Physically she was no match for the cowardly attack, but her strength of character and fortitude will I have no doubt be a catalyst for tolerance among the more forward-thinking in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

North Africa and the Middle East are mired in a volatile mix of religious fervour and a fervent desire for democracy. Tolerance lessens daily as extremists on both sides battle for their beliefs until there seems to be very little of anything for the majority in the middle, who long for peace and the ability to provide for their families, free of fear.

The blame game continues in Mexico where ironically a group of pacifist Mennonites who fled Russia due to religious persecution a hundred or so years ago are considering returning to the Motherland. The reason is loosely blamed on water, or lack of it in the arid northern states. Tensions between Mexican and Mennonite farmers have grown with each accusing the other of overusing the alarmingly low water table, and the suspicion that each have obtained well permits through bribery. Along with water rights issues is the concern in the Mennonite community that their youth are being corrupted by outside influences, namely cocaine smuggling. Sequestering their families back in Russia, perhaps in the Tatarstan region along the Volga River, is in their opinion a viable option.

I would argue the ability to learn to exercise tolerance, and a sense of fair play, does not come from isolation but rather a willingness to listen. Not just to those fables passed down the generations but to each other no matter our ethnicity, religion or level of education. Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of the Yoruba book of proverbs and remember wisdom comes from reasoning.


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