Pull My Finger

Every culture, and every subset of humanity down to the family unit or small group of friends, can and does develop its own narrative, its own mythology, customs and jargon. Each can share its own exclusive brand of humor and its own taboos.

Every culture has its childhood stories, fairytales and legends. Some are archetypal and some unique. If we are fortunate we will remember fondly for the rest of our lives the songs our grandparents sang and the stories they told.

My grandmother was a storyteller, and with her songs and stories she opened up a window into the past that I can still peer through today, many years later. She and my grandfather were shaped note singers, and they sang songs almost as old as the nation. Some of the stories they told, passed down from our Cherokee ancestors, were even older.

If I told those stories to a young person today, they would sound as strange to them as a tale of the Apollo mission would sound to a child of the late 18th century. Both listeners would lack the necessary context for a proper understanding.

Our stories tell us a lot about ourselves and the culture which shaped our lives, but as western culture has spread like a coat of paint, thicker in some places than in others, over most of the planet, much of what was unique in our decreasingly diverse human experience has been irretrievably lost. Go just about anywhere today and people look very much the same. Pittsburg or Prague, you’ll see the same American jeans and multinational brands.

A story came out recently which says a lot about western culture, though the events of the story took place in Tibet. What it says does not speak well of us. The story was about the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama. With fan flaming breaking news righteous indignation, establishment media published a picture of him sticking his tongue out at a young boy and quoted the broken English of the elderly monk while inviting us to question either his sanity or his character. Was he suffering from dementia or was he revealing a perverse nature long hidden behind the trappings of religion?

Anyone who grew up in Tibet knew immediately the context of the story and saw the event for what it was – an innocent and heart warming encounter between young and old. The broken English quote was the closing line from an old Tibetan fairytale told by grandparents to their grandchildren for generations, and no more harmful than when your own grandfather invited you to “pull my finger.”

Tibetans were quick to confront the tacky rumors and speculations, or at least they attempted to do so. I challenge you to find one retraction, correction or update to the story within the infotainment matrix of establishment media.

The story had served its purpose, and as my brother pointed out, it also advanced the interests of the Chinese government which exploits every opportunity to erase Tibetan culture in their own modern and ongoing version of what Americans in the 19th century called “manifest destiny.”

So quick we are to click the tacky and the prurient, to heedlessly feed the wolf of negativity and thoughtlessly move on to the next sensation, wondering why we sleep so poorly and suffer from digestive ailments. How serious we all can be, judgy and quick to judge; a bit neurotic with a tendency to overdramatize.

The responsibility is not all our own. Our brains are fight or flight transponders and that is the hitch which pulls our wagons, which is another idiom indecipherable without historical or cultural context. “We all just need to lighten up,” says a good friend. I agree. It seems half the world missed having a grandfather to tell them to “pull my finger.”

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