Saturday, September 14, 2019

Fairy-tales that celebrate self-control

Mrs ERJ and I were driving home from watching Mom and Dad and talking about Chicago and some of their issues.

The conversation turned to culture and fairy tales. Fairy tales, Aesop's fables, tropes, memes are not just markers of culture, they define culture and transfer it to the next generation.

If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the inner-city culture it would be to inculcate the skill of being able to delay gratification.

The Ant and the Grasshopper were the only tale that came close to inspiring that characteristic. For the most part the tale's payoff were short-term karma on steroids.

Another problem with the Ant and the Grasshopper involves bugs. It is difficult for humans to empathize with bugs. In some cases, bugs are racist.

Studies show that children who exhibit the skill of being able to delay gratification are significantly more successful than those who cannot.

I think it is important to talk about delaying gratification as a skill rather than an immutable personality trait. Skills can be improved through practice. The practice has to be realistic and involve multiple repetitions. Later practice must branch out so the child gains skill in recognizing situations when it is appropriate to transfer that skill.

Does the urban landscape offer any memes that are the equivalent of not eating the seed corn but planting it instead? Does it offer many venues where those skills are exercised and extended?

My mental image of the inner-city is that lack of self-control is not just tolerated, it is celebrated and enabled. Those who show self-control "lose."


  1. The 'me' generation, coupled with instant gratification is playing out every day with the millennials and certain other cultures...

    1. As one of the adults in the room, I think it is my job to take a swing at writing a fairy-tale but really struggle with where to start. Aesop's tales run about 150-to-200 words. Some of Grimm's run to 1400.

    2. study the structure of Myths. there is a definite structure and sequence that is involved. works with any subject matter. example link.

  2. You are right on target Joe, but you - and all of our children and young people - are up against an unprecedented age of peace and plenty, such as has never been seen in human history. And it's in a society that is spoiled for choice and geared toward consumption. We are inundated with technology designed to thwart impulse control. The only impulse controls that really work are those where there is a dire consequence involved, where natural selection operates. War and civil upheaval, for example. It sounds terribly jaded, but I fear it's true.

  3. Of course practice will improve anything, but you will never be Ussain Bolt, nor even be as fast as his slow cousin, no matter how much you practice. The inner city is what it is because the denizens don't have our ability to think ahead, just as we don't have Ussain's abilty to sprint.


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