Eshu, Wisdom For The Digital Age

There is a tale told by the Yoruba people of West Africa  about Eshu, their trickster god, and it goes something like this:

Once there were two farmers that had lived happily beside each other on adjacent plots for many years. The two men were very similar in their lives, their work, their attitudes,  even down to the way they dressed.

One day Eshu, the trickster god, decided to see if he could cause strife between the two men. He dressed himself in a hat that was black on one side, and red on the other, stuck his pipe to the back of his neck, and tied his staff to the back of his robe. Once dressed, Eshu took a stroll along the boundary line between the two properties. As he passed the two men who were out working their fields, Eshu called out a greeting to them.

Once Eshu had disappeared from their sight, the two men started talking about the strange sight they had just witnessed, which quickly escalated to a quarrel as to the color of his hat and the direction in which he was walking.  While the two men were arguing, Eshu strolled through again, this time from the opposite direction, and once again called out a greeting to the men.

Instead of stopping the argument, it escalated it. The two men were now arguing that the other one been right the first time, and eventually it became so heated that they began trading blows. At this stage the king was forced to intervene. As the men were telling their sides of the story to him, Eshu appeared and proudly claimed responsibility for creating the discord between the two.

So why am I telling you this story? Mostly because it’s been popping into my head lately as I spend more and more time on social media. That’s the great thing about folklore and mythology, it doesn’t matter how far away (either geographically or time-wise) the stories are from you, they still contain wisdom that resonates.

In this case, Eshu could easily create the argument between the two men because despite their similarities, deep down both men had an overwhelming need to be ‘right’. Even when Eshu returned the men felt the need to be ‘right’ about whether the other man had been right the first time.

By this time the men had seen for themselves both sides of Eshu, and different things each time, so the logical leap to the fact the man’s hat was bi-colored was not outside of reach, but they were both too busy arguing to step back and see the truth of the matter.

Now I’m not saying we all have to agree; disagreements can be fruitful, educational and solution orientated, but not if we are just trying to prove ourselves right for the sake of ego. Eshu teaches us that rather than standing in our spot and insisting that there is only black and white (or in this case black and red) that we should pay attention to the in-between, because often that is where the solutions lie.

(Note: this version of the Eshu folk tale is loosely taken from Robert D. Pelton’s The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight. Other variants of the story exist; in some, it isn’t just the two farmers battling, but two entire sides of the village. Also, the king/chief isn’t always successful in ending the disagreement; some versions end in an all out blood bath between the two opposing sides…a sobering lesson given the interesting times we live in)

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