There’s the parable of the ham: a young girl watches her mother clip the edge off a ham before placing it into a pan to cook in the stove. Curious why her mother would cut off a perfectly good piece of ham she asks, “why did you do that mom?” The mom responds, “I don’t know, it’s just the way my mother did it.” Still curious, the girl calls her grandmother and asks her the same question. The grandmother said, “I don’t know, it’s the way my mother did it.” As luck would have it, the young girl’s great-grandmother was still alive. When she called her great-grandmother at the nursing home and asked why she clipped her ham, the great-grandmother said “I cut it so it would fit in my small pan.”
It’s funny how mindlessly things can pass from one generation to the next without question. This is never more evident than when it comes to myths and old wives tales.
The cold weather causes colds. Swimming with a full belly can make someone drown. Cracking knuckles will lead to arthritis.
What is it about myths that they cling like a static-charged sock to a cashmere sweater?
Personally, I think they’re there to fill in gaps of knowledge for things we don’t entirely understand. I also think they’re constructs that we develop because we feel they’re simple logical conclusions: when the cold weather comes around, more people get sick. Ergo, cold weather causes people to get colds.
Ok, I see the logic. But cold weather actually causes sickness because people tend to spend more time indoors, around each other in larger groups. This makes it easier for viruses to spread. Thus more sick people.
But yet people insist that it’s actually the cold air outside that makes people sick. This is the same faulty logic that has also concluded that vaccines cause autism. Despite the fact no study has proven this and dozens of studies have refuted it, people still believe it’s true.
Why do we hang on to these ideas though? As usual, I believe it’s because propagating myths doesn’t require us to think too much about the truth. A bridge has already been built for us, why look for another bridge or build another bridge altogether?
I’m not perfect. I know there are times where I fall in line with the myth system.
Part of the problem is these myths become so ingrained that they become social mores, even when people know they’re not true. No matter how preposterous, if you don’t fall in line with these long-held beliefs, you’re outcast. If you let your child run out into the windy, cool weather with wet hair and no jacket, you’re considered a bad parent.
What would it take to break the cycle? I don’t know.
We could start with questioning what we hold to be true, even if it’s something that everyone believes to be true. We can also stop ostracizing people who ask those questions, even when we think it’s weird that they’re asking.