MQ-2: The Centre Of The Universe ('Mythquake' series)

More on the Mythquake book-project.

The previous chapter, ‘MQ-1: Everyday Upsets‘, introduced the basic idea of mythquakes as a mismatch between our expectations and the actual reality. Here we start to explore what happens when we say that it’s reality, and not our expectations, that are ‘wrong’. The first place (or perhaps most obvious place) where this begins to happen is in early childhood – the dreaded stage of the ‘terrible twos’. But that’s only the beginning… and some dangerous habits can also be instilled at this stage, which cause much more serious problems later in life, for everyone.

This chapter contains the following sections:

  • The terrible twos [mostly complete]
  • Winners and losers [notes only]
  • Sibling rivalry [notes only]

Book-development notes are shown in italics inside square-brackets, [like this]. Further commentary on the development-notes is in ordinary type inside curly-braces, {like this}.

MQ-2: The centre of the universe

Richter 2: Very minor earthquake. Recorded but rarely felt. Equivalent to around one tonne of TNT. Around one thousand per day.

Mercalli II: A few people notice movement, if they are at rest or in the upper floors of tall buildings.

The terrible twos

Where do mythquakes come from? As the term itself implies, there are two parts to this: the myth, and the quake.

The first part is a story that we tell ourselves about the world – about how we believe it ‘really is’, the way it ‘really works’ and so on. The driving force behind this is probably a need for certainty, a way to predict what’s going to happen next, so that we don’t have to think about, don’t have to plan. The catch is that we may not even know that we’re telling ourselves that story: we may have started it so long ago, and been doing so for so long and so often, that we’ve completely forgotten that it is only a story – a made-up myth with ourselves as its centre.

What stories do you tell yourself about how the world ‘really is’? Is it generally a friendly place? Or is it out to get you – ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ and all that? Or somewhere in between? What is the story?

And when did you first start telling yourself that story? How far back does it go? Before you can even remember, perhaps?

Some kind of mythquake will occur whenever the story collides with anything that doesn’t fit its expectations. It might be some­one else’s story; it might be our own need for change; it could be part of the weird weavings of Reality Department: the nominal cause itself often doesn’t matter all that much. What does matter is the collision – because that can sometimes shake us to the core.

Every mythquake is a shock: and a major part of that shock – the surprise, usually unpleasant if not always so – comes from the fact that we’ve forgotten the story, or that the story is story. The story may be personal, about how we believe our own life should work; it may be collective, part of the cultural myth and milieu; what­ever it may be, if we’re not aware of it as story – and especially if we’re not aware of it at all – it can catch us unawares at any time.

Our life-patterns create stories, and destroy stories too. In that sense, perhaps the oldest story in the world is each child’s initially unshakeable belief that it is the centre of world – the pivot-point around which the entire world rotates. To any infant, any toddler, it’s a fact, a certainty: the world exists to serve my needs – “it’s mine, I want it, and I want it now!”. So watch out for the myth­quakes that will occur whenever that story collides with Reality Depart­ment, and the toddler’s self-centred world comes crashing down; watch those sparks fly in the shops and supermarket aisles. A mythquake indeed: a bit more energy than just your everyday upset…

The tears and tantrums of the ‘terrible twos’ – that stage of child-development that every parent leans to dread!

It’s natural enough, of course, if decidedly noisy: the frenzied fury of the thwarted toddler can be heard halfway up the high-street, it seems, or echoing from the highest rafters of the shopping-mall. But how do the parents respond to the collapse of their own myths there, about their purportedly ‘perfect child’, perhaps? What parental stories, hopes, delusions, can you see exposed and broken on the reefs of Reality Department?

What other mythquakes are happening here? For example, is there a challenge to someone’s myth that ‘little children should be seen and not heard’? What response from others do you see to those inner challenges? – a desire to control, to silence; or perhaps to placate and pander to the wilful rage?

And what’s your own response towards the howling child? What mythquakes are happening here for you?

This is also one of the clearest and most direct illustrations of the difference between Richter and Mercalli. On a Richter-like global scale, the amount of energy involved would barely register as a momentary blip; but as with Mercalli, one angry toddler in full-bore complaint can cause a great deal of local disruption! And whilst each individual incident might be small, the impacts can multiply and mount up into a screaming crescendo that can be all but unbearable – as again many parents will know all too well…

We can also see this in children’s behaviour. In all too many cases, the first words that a child will learn are “mine!” and “no!” – the former being an attempt to possess the story, and the latter an attempt to control others’ stories. It can be interesting to explore the implications of the dominance of those two words in so many children’s lives…

[The mythquake when the toddler’s self-centred world comes crashing down; relatively easily survivable; though some people never recover from this.]

{The theme here would have been that what’s really going on is a clash between expectation and reality, with reality being blamed for being ‘wrong’. It’s what I sometimes call a ‘subject-based’ view of the world: I understand the concept of ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, but still believe that all of the ‘not-me’ world is an extension of me – my ‘subjects’ – that exists to do things that I want to happen but can’t do, or don’t want to do. As my subjects, others are, by definition, subordinate to my will: at this stage in child-development, there is little to no concept of negotiation, or sharing, or any other more-sophisticated social arrangement. In principle this should merely be a transitory stage of development: but it’s all too noticeable that some people never do grow out of this kind of behaviour – instead perhaps learning to conceal it in somewhat more subtle ‘socially-acceptable’ forms… It’s certainly true that the shock of discovering that we are not the sole centre of the world is often painful, and for some may seem far too hard to bear – hence the explosive mythquakes.}

Winners and losers

[Litany can be felt as serious – e.g. spectator sport, “we lost” – but hardly serious in the grand scheme of things, i.e. little actual damage that would not be resolved in time for next week’s game!]

{To me, most sports – especially spectator-sports such as football or baseball – have never made sense: it’s just a made-up game with made-up rules, played by a small number of people with often hugely over-inflated egos… Yet to many people, sports seems to be a life-or-death matter: in Australia, the local variant of football is often referred to as ‘religion’, and certainly seems to be treated in that way in terms of its centrality in many people’s lives. Everything seems to focus around the elation of ‘winning’, or the supposed tragedy of ‘losing’ – which again leads to extreme expectations, and extreme over-reactions to variances from those expectations. Hence, again, some significant mythquakes – though usually only as transitory as those of the two-year-old’s tantrum.}

Sibling rivalry

[A hint that many of our society’s deep-stories are little more than a toddler’s temper-tantrum.

all pressure is to remain as a two-year-old: immediate gratification, self-centred, short-term view]

{One of the key triggers for the ‘terrible-twos’-type explosion is the specific stage of child-development when the ego arises and awareness of separation of self and not-self develops. Unfortunately, this often coincides with the arrival of another sibling – which hammers home the feelings of loss of that previous feeling of ‘the centre of the universe’ within the family unit. Parents’ attention is often torn between the new arrival and the suddenly-demanding existing child: and the existing child may well ‘win’ this battle – or feel that this behaviour will help them do so. The result is that a behaviour-pattern is set in place: ‘mine!’ and ‘shan’t’ and ‘want it now!’ become key items in that growing person’s vocabulary, together with a strong sense of entitlement that needs to be defended at all costs. Although the damage here is localised, this can often set the stage for much more serious mythquakes further down the track.}

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