By Jeff Campbell
The most dangerous kinds of lies are those that are the closest to the truth. Satan, for example, did not engineer the fall of humanity with outrageous fabrications. He manipulated Adam and Eve by putting this little spin on the way things actually are. He began in the truth, and he just took this little hop over into the land of untruth.
I suppose the danger of little lies is that they sometimes fly under our radar. We are wired to sense when things are terribly wrong. But we are not always wise enough to notice when things are only a little bit wrong.
Permit me an example that might appear quite trivial on the surface: A number of Disney movies.
If these movies were outrageously off the mark, they would not speak to us. If they operated in a world that was thoroughly alien to our deepest selves, we wouldn’t even be interested in them.
They are, in some sense, dangerous, because they get the nature of things almost right… Almost, but not exactly. Consider both Toy Story movies. When viewed through a certain lens, the whole thing can be boiled down to: Buzz and Woody are the rightful “chief toys” of Andy. Across the first two movies, these two come to realize that they belong at the center of the story, together.
Or The Lion King: Simba was born to be King. When somebody else tries to be King, even nature rebels and there years of famine ensue. When he resumes his rightful place- in the center of the story- not only does his kingdom rejoice, but the clouds themselves recognize that things are the way they are meant to be, and the famine ends.
Or Cinderella. Cinderella perhaps was meant for greatness, but her father died. And it seemed like her fate was changed. But the Fairy God Mother steps in, to put things right. And she is the only person who is meant to be at the center of the kingdom’s story. The glass slipper is a sort-of metaphor. Only she will do.
It’s often been noted that virtually every Disney main character has only one parent in the picture. I’d go so far as to suggest that the subtext of this is that the lost parent is what steers the character away from their rightful destiny. Over and over again, the Disney movies, are about the characters discovering that they are inherently of value, that they are worthy just because they were born, and that they belong in the very center of the story.
This truth is in some way, counter-cultural. It is a stark contrast to a terrifying message which is broadcast to us in countless tiny ways. That message is: We are utterly meaningless.
We are told in many ways that we simply don’t matter. Our lives don’t matter, our choices don’t matter, our fates don’t matter.
The kissing cousin to this message is that we might matter… if we are successful. Under our own power and as a result of our own decisions, if we achieve some arbitrary definition of wealth, fame or power, we will be one of the meaningful ones in a world that is comprised mostly of faceless insignifant people.
Is it any wonder that something in us sings when we hear these stories? I think that our hearts know the truth and when something comes along rejecting the lies we grab onto it.
When a story asserts that life has meaning, when it cries out that we are important we grab onto this story. When a story says that our meaning is not rooted in the things we do, our importance is not connected to our successes and failures, we listen to it.
When we see that Woody is valuable to Andy not for anything he did, but just because, it speaks to something inside of us.
When we find that Simba is worth more than the number of grubs he can dig up on the backside of a rock, something soars inside of us.
When we find out that Cinderella was more than just the servant girl that life turned her into, we want to cheer with her.
Because this is all true: we are worth more than the roles we fill. We are worth more than the things we do, the money we earn, or the tasks we complete.
We sense that we were — individually and collectively — meant for greatness. But something went astray. Like Adam ate the apple. Like Cinderella’s dad died. Like Buzz Lightyear entered the picture. And now? Now we are just spinning our wheels, serving the evil step mother, hanging out with the meerkat, arguing with Buzz Lightyear.
But consider the cost of the truth that even these stories that are telling.
These stories tell us that some people are just born great. They don’t really explore the implication of that statement. Because if some are simply born great, what about the rest of us?
What about the lions who are not Simba? What about the toys that are not Woody? What about the rest of the people in the kingdom that Cinderella was meant to rule over?
So many fairy tales embody half a truth. And this is why they are dangerous. The truth that they embody is that we are meant for greatness, and this greatness is not a thing that we need to earn.
But the lie they carry with them is that we are more special, more deserving than the other people around us. We won’t live happily ever after as long as we cling to the delusions that we are meant to be the center of the story. If we were perfect and self-sufficient, it would be fine for God to allow us to be the king or the queen.
If she were a human like us Cinderella could not live as a queen and be happily ever after. If he were flawed like us Simba could never live as a king and rule with justice, keeping his subjects and himself happy.
It would be an act of unspeakable cruelty, if God left us to our own devices. It would be the height of sadism for Jesus to say “Sure, just go ahead and rule however you want. It will all work out fine.”
We are not the center of the story. The suggestion that we are is the place where the little lie becomes destructive. There is such truth in the idea that we have this immense value and importance merely by being who we are. But it is because of the person who rightfully occupies the center of the story that we have this value.
Jeff is attempting to follow Jesus’ revolutionary call on his life as a father of three, a husband, and Special Education Teacher to behaviorally challenged Adolescents. He frequently tells his kids — much to their great annoyance — that he’d like to be a fireman when he grows up. You can read more of Jeff’s work at his blog.