I can’t say if it’s personality, habit, or some mix of both, but it seems as if a good part of me was destined to live the tradition of a fairy tale character. You remember it, or her, from “Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” All you have to do is change Mary to Harry and garden to crop of ice cubes or bug bites.

Numbers of studies have looked at how fairy tale myth shows up in elements of culture and personality. Big Bad Wolves and Boogeymen reflect basic human fears of the dark and unknown from times when darkness often held dangers able to creep as close as the edge of your campfire’s circle of light. Before the relatively recent appearance of the flashlight, electric lighting of the dark of night was near as the end of your arm holding a lantern’s flickering flame to weakly illuminate the near dark with some of Mr. Rockefeller’s “Standard” of refined kerosene. (Standard refining was a Rockefeller achievement of considerable value in an era when hasty refining put out dangerously volatile products prone to flashing up in a fireball, injuring a person or destroying property.)

Witches, giants, and tests using tricky riddles were things hitting the emotions of the young that became absorbed and passed up into adult attitudes. A kid facing bullying was meeting his wicked witch, her giant, or her riddle-making master needing to be met and answered. Mary quite contrary has a different angle. No outside force of witch or wolf assails Mary. She is her own dilemma growing silver bells and cockle shells, an impossible crop to grow without use of imagination running contrary to the reality of how bells and shells are formed in real life. A contrary nature can foster dreamers drawn to visions of other realities. It can also spur constant fault finding or a habit of looking at the here-and-now using the uncommon lens of the contrary view. The contrary view is the unpopular, uncommon, or unaccepted one and is extremely useful as a tool of wider understanding.

Take as an example the Fourth of July. This patriotic day is a worthy reminder of some just causes and some grand ideals. We all know the justice was sometimes flawed and the ideals often far from ideal, but the standard view (like Mr. Rockefeller’s oil) gives safe and reliable illumination that serves well enough. But, and I do mean this quite sincerely, examine what your feelings would be if YOUR founding fathers of noble lore and legend were from any of the hundreds of “new world” tribes and nations well and truly rooted here long before Chris Columbus or the pesky Puritans came a knocking and invited themselves in to stay, and take over, and by the way push all of you and yours well aside or over a cliff if there was one convenient, and those pushing thought they could get away with it claiming by self-defense or divine right. If you were on the side rolled up and done over like newspaper in the bottom of a hamster cage, your “appreciation” of fireworks and Old Glory would easily hold very mixed if not contrary views about what in heck we were celebrating.

A decently grounded (decades of practice does help) contrary disposition will play contrary with his or her own counter-stands. The pesky puzzle-posing side of a contrary will look at a vision of Caribbean natives discovering Spain or of Aztecs moving north with their habits of enslaving and sacrificing others. A contrary view won’t find many heroes in ages when people were shaped and driven by fierce and often entirely self-serving beliefs and systems. The contrary imagination sees that witches, wolves, and darkening forces are more than pointy hats and long teeth. The demons that prompt childhood fears to become adult responses are based on sad facts of observing the wolves and trolls of today so happily setting about plans of destruction they see as grand and glorious improvements, based on their view of human destiny as bound and gagged and subservient to them and their ravenous beliefs.

The funny thing about a contrary nature: it sees all cultures and peoples as capable (and possibly guilty of) the same or worse excesses seen in others. Like the “new world,” the “old” is packed full of tribes who once ran from this glen to that or were wandering lords of a valley or steppe. All humans are native to the planet. Common ground is humanity that can be (and often is) lost in an overlay of culture, language, or tradition that distinguishes this group from that. A contrary may see so much division and discord that it seems impossible humanity will ever get along, but contrary visions also dream-see beyond the separations to the heart and heartland shared by all.

If too few see past the division of one-view from the many-view, then there is little hope. Hope may be all we have, but without it and lacking the willingness to dream beyond the limits of the present, we have an emptiness of spirit that makes all our ancestors weak with sorrow for children unable to live their greatness without destroying that of others. Is it only the contrary who knows that the right of being supersedes all others, including nation and including belief? Our own being is each person’s first teacher. Listen where the first voice speaks.

A poem of counter-celebration

Don’t listen to me when you can open your ears to the perfect silence of the stars.
My words are of less weight than the sweet soft whispers of the moon licking the sleeping surface of a pond.
No breath of anger is held in the ancient perfumes of cedar or balsam, in fern or fresh grasses, or in the rich scent of Earth’s organic flesh.
A quiet spot waits for us to listen with our many ears to the infinite dialogs of  moon shadows  weaving ever-shifting words with moving branches casting spells of happiness to slow the noisy spirit, be it ever so wary or unexpecting of the gift.