I've been thinking about the meaning of cheese today. Not the gouda and brie and swiss that may be in our refrigerators, but metaphoric cheese. Allegorical cheese. Life-lesson cheese. It all started when someone recently gave me a copy of Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese for Kids, and said that I should take a look at this picture book. It came out a couple of years ago, and maybe everyone, young and older, has already moved on from Spencer's basic idea: that we've all been conditioned, by circumstances and, mostly by ourselves, to find certain rewards (that is, "cheese") in certain familiar patterns of behavior. We negotiate the mazes of life (family, school, work, relationships) and we usually find something that sustains and nourishes us -- at least for a while. But then, the inevitable happens. We've exhausted the cheese in that particular spot, or someone has "moved" it. So we have essentially two choices when faced with the fact that the cheese is gone: keep looking in the same old places, even though the cupboards are bare, or get up, dust ourselves off, and go out in search of some new cheese, which could be just around the next bend in the maze.
In Who Moved My Cheese for Kids, Johnson introduces us to this metaphor for life's challenges in the form of four characters -- two mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two human looking creatures, Hem and Haw. They're decked out in identical (though different colored) jumpsuits. They live in a maze, where they find a cache of magic cheese and are quite content to run (or in the case of Hem and Haw, to amble) over to the same place every day and cheerfully nibble away on the wedges of Cheddar and Gorgonzolla. But then one day . . . . Well, you can probably guess where this is going. Sniff and Scurry, as their names proclaim, make the best of things and, by the end of the book, have refondued their former happiness tenfold. Hem and Haw have a slightly harder road -- especially Hem, who is purple around the gills. Could it have been a bad piece of Limberger? It's hard to say.
I know I've oversimplified the effects of conditioning that we all realize operate on some basic levels in our adult and our children's lives. And it's certainly important to teach our young people life lessons, to pass along the parables that are shaped by hard-won wisdom. But all this moving mozarella makes me think of how Aesop compressed his truths into fables like "The Ants and the Grasshopper" -- with supreme economy, with tart honesty, and without any cheesiness.
Copyright 2005© John Cech
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Thursday, 01-Sep-2005 12:07:26 EDT