Metaphors of the Imaginary Teach Us How to Live

As featured in the Island Packet

Last week I saw an article on the Internet where a small pharmacy in Watford, North Dakota had starting prescribing a bottle of “Monster Spray” to kids who were afraid of the dark. The instructions on the bottle read: “Spray around the room at night before bed, repeat as necessary.” Jokingly, the piece stated that the spray “had proven quite effective over the years.”

I later posted the article to Facebook with a caption that said “What to do if your kids are afraid of monsters.” Quickly though, someone commented on the post by saying, “Why just not teach them that they don’t exist?” I could understand the person’s perspective and it got me to thinking: Is it a good thing for us to allow our kids to believe in imaginary beings?

Culturally, from a very early age we tell our kids tales about a lot of pretend persons, some that we depict as fictitious, others that we do not. Most kids that I know recognize that comic book type superheroes, Disney/Pixar animated films, and literary fairy tales are imaginary. But very few kids that I know believe that modern Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy to be frauds. Fortunately, I am guessing that those same children can’t read this article either, so I shouldn’t be smashing any childhood fantasies.

That being said though, if we are willing to perpetuate the myths of potentially good imaginary beings it seems pretty logical that kids would believe in monstrous ones as well. Of course this is also not to say that there isn’t cultural resistance to perpetuating these fables. Many Christians I know refuse to acknowledge the Easter Bunny or Santa, arguing that these imaginary beings somehow lessen who Jesus Christ is in the perceptions of their children. Complicating the issue even further – those in the New Atheist camp, would extend such anti-imaginary ideas to God as well arguing that if you don’t have repeatable empirical evidence then no such deity could possibly exist. The issues then have understandably become significantly muddled.

Personally, I think that we use metaphors of the imaginary to explain to children things that they might not yet be ready for emotionally in the world. When I was a child I received a letter from Santa in our trailer park’s community mailbox. It is the first piece of mail that I ever remember receiving. In the envelope was a small thin golden reindeer Christmas tree ornament with “Christopher” engraved on it.

Now my parents weren’t particularly religious but they sent me the letter because of a very religious reason. They wanted me to know that they cherished me. When I got older and learned the truth about Santa I realized the reality was far better than a fable. It wasn’t some artic stranger who loved me it was my family. The ornament has been up on our Christmas tree every year ever since.

Metaphors of the imaginary often explain to us what the world is really like before we are able to fully comprehend it. And how we use them is important. There are indeed monsters in the world, heroes and heroines, and those who give charitably to others. But we miss the point of these metaphors if they are minus relationships because the relationships yield the proof of the actuality, of the evidence behind the story. How we treat one another and the love we exude is an essential part of what it means to be human. That is no myth.


1 thought on “Metaphors of the Imaginary Teach Us How to Live

  1. Hey, in my and my son’s experience, the tooth fairy always came through with a quarter or a dollar after my mom informed my son that the tooth fairy gave out more money these days…thanks mom.

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