I’ve tried for years to explain the idea that resistance ensures persistence. I am indebted to the brilliant Oliver Burkeman* for bringing to my attention two important stories that demonstrate this idea. Both are founding myths of world culture. I will start with the Oedipus tale.
The essence of the story is that when Oedipus is born to the King and Queen of Thebes his horrible fate – that he will kill one parent and marry the other – has already been foretold by an oracle. His mother and father, desperate to avoid this fate, persuade a local shepherd to take the newborn and kill him. The shepherd cannot bring himself to kill the child and passes him to another instead. The child lives and subsequently becomes the adoptive son of the King and Queen of Corinth. When Oedipus confronts them some time later with the rumour that he is adopted they deny it…and so when he hears of the oracle’s terrible forecast, he believes that they are the parents to whom it refers. Deciding to escape the curse, he puts as much distance between himself and his ‘false’ parents as he can.
Unfortunately the place to which he flees is Thebes and his terrible fate takes over: he becomes involved in an argument over a chariot and kills its occupant, who turns out to have been his father. Then he falls in love with and marries his mother, who on learning of the truth, commits suicide, leaving Oedipus to blind himself in despair…
The relevance of this tale to our daily lives was, I believe, hijacked by Freud’s insistence that it related to boy’s desire to have sex with their mothers. And although there is important insight in this interpretation, the story has a more central significance than that.
It tells us that if we try to run away from our deepest fears, they may arrive again in front of us as a result of our attempts to outmanoeuvre them. Indeed, our very dodging may ensure that we end up producing the result we dread.
The moral of the tale? Make friends with your demons, they are only aspects of your imagination and if you try to resist them, they will persist.
In next post our second story, that of Siddharta Guatama, who became the Buddha [‘the one who woke up’] we will see that attempts to make certain aspects of life ‘no-go’ areas that you do not have to face is similarly futile…
*See Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking