Is it just me or does the rhetoric that dominates the headlines in recent years appear rather vitriolic?
In my teenage years, as the World Wide Web became a thing, I remember saying ‘This “shrinking” of the world is a great thing. It means there will not be another World War as people will no longer believe the propaganda.’
It will be very hard to convince people that The Hun eats babies if we all know someone who is German and understand that sauerkraut might be a bit weird, but at least it’s not a baby.
As the internet, cheap air travel and freedom of movement agreements allowed people to leave the country of their birth and interact with people of other nations and cultures, I thought it would go a long way to breaking down stereotypes and reducing people’s Ingroup/Outgroup bias.
Or that is what I’d hoped for anyway.
And so I find myself retreating from the headlines and immersing myself in the simpler and more innocent world of my children. They haven’t yet developed the simplified categorisations we adults need to interpret a more complex world. They simply play with people and toys that they like, regardless of size, shape, colour or texture. If you are a smiling person or a rubber duck with a funny face, you will have my son’s attention. Be grumpy, rude or a piece of celery and he will discard you from his scope of play.
To him, the story of Betty and the Yeti is a nice story featuring some funny illustrations of a Polar bear, a Blue Whale and half naked Yeti. To me its a great metaphor for our human tendency towards prejudice and what can happen if we allow ourselves to challenge and engage with that.
It begins with Betty, out for a normal day on her sleigh, saying hello to her arctic animal friends and finding random discarded items of clothing. Soon she stumbles upon a strange rock that turns out to be….a YETI!
“A Yeti!” squealed Betty,
and she tried to run away.
But, “Please don’t go!” the yeti cried,
“I’d love it if you’d stay”
A Yeti?! I mean that’s a pretty scary mythical beast. We can all understand Betty’s reaction. Never having met a Yeti before but having heard nothing but stories of the Abominable Snowman. (Oxford dictionary, Abominable: “Causing moral revulsion”)
However, brave Betty stays just long enough to hear the Yeti’s explanation that they are actually rather shy, small creatures who wear lots of clothes to keep warm. When people see them dressed in so many clothes they are terrified and run away.
It’s very hard to make a friend
in the land of snow,
when you’ve scared them all away
before you’ve even said ‘hello!’
Sure enough, in that lovely children’s book way, Betty and the Yeti become good friends. And this is the point that the book could have ended. We’d have learnt a valuable lesson, “Never judge a book by its cover“. Turns out Yetis aren’t to be feared at all, they are simply swamped in clothes.
What I enjoyed about this book was that it doesn’t stop there. Betty brings the Yeti home and, sure enough, her friends all freak out.
But when they saw that Betty
had hold of Yeti’s paw,
they knew they didn’t need to be
One by one the Hare, the Blue Whale and the Polar Bear all befriend the Yeti. They dispel their previous prejudice from stories they had heard and replace it with their own, more positive, experience.
The message becomes more than “don’t judge”, it is “be kind”. Just be nice to people and you’ll be amazed where the world takes you.
Or, as my wife puts it,
I like reading Betty and the Yeti because the message is:
“Don’t be a dick”