The word chaos comes from the Greek kháos, meaning chasm or void. It also has a protean quality when it’s used to describe the creation events in ancient myths like Babylonia’s primeval sea, the chaos of Egypt’s recurring floods, the Iroquois’ water covered world and of course the Hebrew version: “The earth was without form and void; darkness was on the face of the deep.”
Our country is in a time of chaos. Instead of truth and guidance and inspiration from our government leaders we get lies and obfuscation and blame casting. The idea of a unified nation is on no one’s mind, instead we create divisions and cliques and define ourselves by the conspiracy theories we believe in. Social media, instead of being a place to socialize, is inundated with political memes and outrageous, attention grabbing posts that have little to do with verifiable facts.
Extreme opinions have become trendy. It’s a form of acting out, a kind of self expression. The uncertainty of our times has created anxiety and the anxiety has created all kinds of strange behaviors. It’s a fear reaction to changes that we sense are happening but can’t control.
But the creation myths also tell the story of renewal and rebirth from the chaos. “Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.” That was a positive development. The Iroquoian Sky Woman fell from her island in the sky, but landed on the back of Big Turtle floating in the primordial waters that covered the world. Osiris, the Egyptian god, was killed but then was resurrected from the dead with magic spells and perfumes by his devoted queen. The Babylonian’s battle with the watery chaos that was all around them was won by their hero Marduk. All the stories of our ancestors proclaim not only rebirth but renewal. Our chances of coming out of this chaos are 100% if myth is a reliable guide.
And how bad is the chaos going to be? It could be much worse than this, we could look back at this time as the halcyon years when things were normal. It depends on how much fear and anxiety we choose to carry around with us. As can be seen from Donald Trump’s spectacular rise to power, people’s fears and anxieties are easily aroused and manipulated. The same technologies that were supposed to make our lives easier, more productive and more fun, have enabled massive brain washing. That’s not a nice word but appropriate. People don’t know the difference between opinion, preference and what they actually know to be true. There are facts and there are ‘alternative facts’. There is news and there is ‘fake news’.
I would call that some pretty rich chaos. We should be able to make something out of that, like the Iroquois story of the primordial ocean and the toad who dove down to the bottom and brought back a mouthful of mud and with that tiny bit of earth the world was created on the back of Big Turtle by Sky Woman and her friends.
Maybe that’s what we need, story time around the old campfire, telling each other the stories of who we are and how we do it. I know we have TV and movies and they kind of do that, and the evening news tells us about all the bad things that happened in an entertaining sort of way, but maybe we could have some discourse amongst ourselves. Maybe, when the fog lifts and we stumble out of the chaos into the light of a mid-day sun, we’ll be able to do it again – remind each other of who we are and how we do it.
We are the human beings (spoiler alert) and we do it with a wide range of amazing behaviors but our most celebrated, our most sublime is when we do it with kindness and compassion. That’s also when we are the most content. That’s also when we are at our most powerful and creative. And that’s when a nation or an individual can become great again.