Have you heard the expression, “<insert number here> million people can’t be wrong can they?” More and more I’ve realized that the answer is big resounding yes!
There are the obvious examples. For instance, people use to believe that the world is flat or that disease was caused by bad smells. Clearly, there will always be more about the world than we can know today.
But it’s the myths we intentionally adopt that amaze me. In today’s CBC podcast, Terry O’Reilly talks about how holidays are commandeered by companies. The tradition of giving a diamond ring for an engagement? Created by De Beers. Cocktail hours? Invented by a distillery. Although at one level we understand that companies profit from it, on another level ask any guy and they’ll tell you that the social and cultural pressure to buy a diamond is real.
As it turns out, companies were not the first to co-opt special occasions. Churches have long known the benefit of tying a message to a celebratory event. In the ancient Roman days, all sorts of Holy Days (a.k.a. holidays) were celebrated around winter solstice including the “birthday of the unconquered son”. During the 4th Century, the church implemented a Christ Mass to push out the other celebrations. Over time people came to associate the Christ Mass (Christmas) with trees and gift exchanges and the birth of Christ even if the birth likely did not happen on December 25th.
While you may argue the accuracy of that story, the more recent story of how Coca-cola created the image of Santa Claus is undeniable. Needing a way to market their soft drink during the Winter Season, they created a picture of the Santa Claus we see today… dressed in red and white. Why? Because they are the colours of Coke.
What this illustrates is how easily we are misled into believing that a particular story is true. Churches, companies, media, politicians today are highly adept at manipulating our myths to their advantage. We unthinkingly consume news, products, information without regard for its origins.
I can’t help but come back to how important it is to have a sense of own history. Without an accurate knowing of our past, we end up stuck in a hall of mirrors that reflects only what we want to see. And that makes for a dangerous and vulnerable place to be.
So let me state the obvious. Just because everyone else believes it, doesn’t mean it’s true.