Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Odysseus and the Lotus Eaters

In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his crew were blown off course and made land in a country populated by people who did nothing but eat a fruit that was so good that they cared for nothing else.  After members of his crew tasted the fruit and lost interest in continuing the journey home, Odysseus ordered the remainder of his men back on the boat and forced those who had tasted the fruit to get on board.  He then rowed away to continue his journey.

In our lives, we are confronted with lotus eaters every day.  Some are harmless, some annoying, and some destructive.

There are the obvious ones who are addicted to some substance or other.  Their addiction can rob them of their jobs, homes, families, and ultimately their lives.  These poor people can not only ruin themselves, but can also rend the lives of all who care for them. 

There are the lotus eaters who are mesmerized by the distractions of the world around them.  Maybe they are buried deep within television, or their books of romantic or action fantasies take up their lives.  These tend to be annoying because they sometimes cannot relate to what is real, preferring to try to cast everything in the stark light of a Harlequin romance rather than what real life is like.   These can also be the people who do not truly believe in evil because they have either never seen evil or if they have, deny it.  To them, the bad things in the world are far away, and life for them will be good as long as they don't think or speak of the bad that is or that may be.  Bad people live somewhere else, bad things happen to someone else, and bad thoughts bring bad things.  An extreme example of this is the person that believes that no-one is truly bad or evil, and that those who do bad were forced into it by circumstances.  To this strain of lotus eater, possessing the tools that can be used to do evil is the cause of evil.  Remove the tool, and the evil cannot happen.

Then there are the more insidious lotus eaters, the ones that continually eat from the public trough and give no thought as to where it all comes from or consider that they should provide for themselves.  They are the ones that have never known a day's work for their food and shelter, and denigrate those who prefer to work for their bread.  To me, these are worse than addicts because they can never be satisfied, even temporarily, and it is impossible to overdose on the forced charity of others.  They will eat and eat, always assuming that those who fill the trough can always get more. When those who produce what they are glutting themselves upon attempt to reduce the ration, they squeal and rant until the free bread is given just to silence them.

We all know lotus eaters, and we must all guard ourselves so that we do not become them.  How easy it would be to stop the struggle to be a real person, conscious of the world around us, in control of our own faculties, and providing for ourselves and our families.  How inviting it would be to lie down in the shade, eat of the delicious fruit, and let someone else worry and work in our stead. 

That we must never do.

We are all born free, and free we must remain.  We must have the honesty to look ourselves in the mirror and say "Today, I have earned what I have and protected it from the evil that is in the world.".  We must teach our children, both in what we do and what we say, about the real world and how they should act when confronted by it.  To the lotus eaters in our lives, we must be a shining example of what they are not and should be.  If possible, we should save those we care about from a life of oblivion, even to the point of forcing them to look into a mirror and see the person they have become.

The fruit of the lotus is sweet, and the freedom from caring about what is happening to us and around us beckons.  But as free people, we must resist that seduction, look life squarely in the eye, and be prepared to struggle with it.

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