Thursday, October 31, 2013

The parable of the giraffes and the sheep and how everyone else is wrong

For a few days at the end of October the Great Giraffe Riddle Meme swept through Facebook like a storm.  And, like a storm, it left some telling wreckage in its wake.

The rules of the game:  Send your answer to the riddle in a private message to the person posting the riddle.  Get it right, hurrah!  Get it wrong, you have to change your profile picture to a giraffe for the next three days.

The riddle:

It’s 3 a.m., the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors! It’s your parents and they are here for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese. What is the first thing you open?

Of course it's a trick question.  It's a riddle, and trick questions are what riddles are all about.  We're expecting that.

We're also expecting that the answer to the riddle, once revealed, will be obvious, evoking the quintessential A-HA! moment in which all the pieces fall neatly into place.

This riddle, however, didn't fall out so neatly.  Arguments ensued, claims and counter-claims were made regarding the real "correct" answer, people were chided for voicing dissent from the shared viewpoint of their circle, friends were unfriended over their disagreements.

You'd think everyone had been arguing about religion and spirituality.

As with religion, some people chose not to participate at all.  And as with religion, some were criticized for not participating.  They were told that they were not good sports; that they were losers who couldn't handle a simple game; that they were idiots who couldn't comprehend the truth; that they were just all-around party poopers who had no sense of team spirit.

And as with religion, some of the ones who chose not to participate retorted that the ones who accused them of not being good sports were just a bunch of mindless sheep, following along unthinkingly according to the rules they were told to follow.

And as with religion, some who chose not to play the game still took an interest in studying the game, learning the different answers people were offering, engaging in discussions about the ways in which the texts could be interpreted.  And as with religion, people who did choose to play the game sometimes claimed that those who chose not to play the game had no business offering an opinion about the game, nor about its Official Text, nor about how to interpret its Official Text.

And as with religion, many chose to play the game, but not everyone played the game the same way.  People divided over their interpretations of how to play the game, and by what rules to play the game, and what answers were and were not acceptable in discussing the game.  People argued over other people deciding not to change their profile pictures, whether because they didn't agree that their answer was the wrong answer or because they simply liked the pictures they were currently displaying.   People argued about whether other people had the right to argue about the riddle.

As with religion, there were multiple versions of the Official Text being passed around.  And as with religion, people disagreed, sometimes heatedly, about which version was the One True Version.

And as with religion, people argued, sometimes with detachment and sometimes with passionate attachment, about which interpretation of the One True Version of the Official Text was the correct interpretation of the One True Version of the Official Text.

And as with religion, some people allowed for more than one possible right answer.  Or for no right answer at all.  Or for the existence of a right answer but enough ambiguity in the text and in the interpretation to suggest that we could not definitively say who was right and who was wrong.

And as with religion, some people argued not only that their answer was THEIR answer, but that their answer was THE answer, and that anyone who did not agree which answer was THE answer was certainly lacking in logic and intelligence and the social grace to acknowledge their horrendously offensive wrongness.

At least nobody claimed that anyone who disagreed with them was going to be damned forever and ever amen.  One small step, and all that.

And I'm left thinking, if we can't even agree to disagree over a poorly-worded grammatically-ambiguous riddle about an absurdly implausible scenario, is it any wonder we humans can't seem to agree to disagree on the far more personally important subject of how we view religion and spirituality?

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from the giraffe, after all, about not being a sheep.