Remember the fable of the Fox and the Grapes? Some things about that fable have always struck me as being a little off. To begin with, since when do foxes eat grapes? I mean, these are foxes, right - red bushy little predators who eat rabbits and squirrels and are the preferred quarry of Quorn and co - they're not Paul Giamatti in Sideways. You don't see busloads of foxes making tours of Napa Valley to sample the grapes, do you? So how come this one fox wanted grapes? Plus, why a fox anyway? I've always thought of foxes in fairy tales / fables as being fairly ambiguous creatures. You never know how they're going to turn out. Sometimes they'll prove to be cunning wily creatures (I have a sudden mental flash of Hendrix signing "Foxy!") at other times they'll be total dupes. It's not like lions or something, where the minute they show up in the story you just know they've got some sort of come-uppance coming to them. So I think it's interesting that the fable is about a fox and not about some other animal (say a turtle or something)
Thinking about it, I realised that what's principally bugged me about the fable all these years is the implicit assumption that the 'right' thing for the fox to do would have been to humbly admit his own inability to get to the grapes without in any way denigrating them or denying his yearning for them. Some sort of "desire of the moth for the star / of the night for the morrow" (Shelley) thing should have happened.
Personally, I think what the fox should have done is basically realise that grapes weren't his thing. After all, there's a reason why the fox isn't able to get to the grapes - evolution hasn't conditioned him to be a grape eater, it isn't natural for him. So rather than saying the grapes must be sour, the fox should say something like - I don't really like grapes that much anyway. I'd rather get myself a juicy rabbit. Grapes are for the birds.
Some people will argue that this is escapism - it's taking the easy way out. There is, I admit, some truth to that, but I think there's a risk of erring too much on the other side. The trouble is that there's a thin line between giving up on something too easily, and striving to make something work when it really isn't worth it, and the fable takes too one sided a view of that trade-off. One reason it does this is that it makes no allowance for the existence of alternatives. Life, I think, is seldom about such all or nothing choices - on the contrary, it is often about making one's way through a minefield of opportunity, trying to pick the one alternative from the many that will give us the greatest satisfaction. So it would be perfectly legitimate for the fox to:
a) Either not pursue the grapes at all, sensing that they were going to be difficult to get and not feeling they were worth it
b) Trying a couple of times and then deciding that the grapes weren't meant for it and making a general decision not to seek grapes any more.
Of course, the fox needs to be objective here - if it really needs the grapes then it must not dismiss them so easily but must continue to look for creative ways to get access to them. My point is simply that it is a valid response for the fox to re-evaluate its craving for grapes in the light of the experienced difficulty of getting at them, and decide that it doesn't want them after all. This is different from simply putting a brave front on things - the point is not that the fox should pretend that the grapes don't matter to him, the point is rather that he should try and get to the point where they genuinely don't.
A friend asked me the other day how I deal with insecurity. My answer - by changing my own aspirations to fit what I think I can achieve. This sounds suspiciously like what the fox does with the grapes, and in some ways it is. My point is that I often find that the things I think I want and feel insecure about not being able to get are usually expectations that society has foisted on me / conditioned me to believe in. They are not things that I truly need - I want them only because I'm expected to want them. If I really think about it, I could manage easily and happily without them and wouldn't have to go around stressing about how I was going to get them.
Understand that this is not an argument for saying that the grapes are sour - I have no doubt that many of the things I no longer aspire to are things that will bring great joy into other people's lives. I'm just unconvinced that they're right for me.
What was it Eliot said in Ash Wednesday?
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?