So I was driving yesterday on a long road trip with several college students. Like just about any other group on a road trip, we were anxious to get some good music coming through the speakers in the van. The only problem was that we were in an area where we didn’t know the radio stations, and our only other option was the CD player and a limited portion of my CD collection. In fact, the only portion of my CD collection that I had brought with me was soundtracks, including the soundtracks of most of the Disney animated features of the 1990s. So, one by one we listened to those famous Disney soundtracks: The Lion King, Alladin, Mulan, Pocahantas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You name it, we probably listened to it in that van, and of course sang along at the top of our lungs. We skipped the tracks that nobody knew or that we couldn’t sing along to and stuck to the familiars. We were having a lot of fun — making a joyful noise, passing the time, and most importantly keeping the driver awake.
Then as we belted our way through Beauty and the Beast, we got to “The Mob Song.” This is the song where the character, Gaston, is rallying the villagers to join him in going after the “horrible” Beast and ultimately killing him. As our van joined in the rally cries of the villagers to “Kill the Beast!” I got caught on two phrases in the song. It caused me such pause that I rewound the song so that I could hear it again. It was the only time in the whole 7 hour road trip that we repeated anything we were listening to. Here’s what I heard, “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least…we’ll kill the Beast!”
How often is this true in our lives? We run across something that we don’t understand, and instead of trying to open ourselves to greater understanding, we just immediately decide that it is in our best interest to destroy it, and the quicker, the better! We go after the “evil,” we seek to gain power over the mystery (because at least then we will be in control), we demolish cultures, we destroy viewpoints, and in the midst of it all, we dehumanize. All for the sake of self-preservation. I look at this all around us; what we are driven to do in the face of mystery, uncertainty, and misunderstanding, and I wonder, “Has this really gotten us anywhere?” I struggle to find evidence that much of anything positive has emerged out of our desire to destroy that which we do not understand. In fact, I see more pain than gain.
So, let us return to Beauty and the Beast. What would have happened if the Beast had been destroyed by Gaston and the other villagers? Aside from a life lost, the Beast would have never transformed back to his human self. The villagers never would have seen the person hidden behind that rough exterior, and we would not have been reminded of that all important lesson that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” In the transformation of the Beast, we were given the opportunity to understand this mystery that had struck such fear and hatred in our hearts, and suddenly we were able to see that there was no reason to “kill the Beast!”
How much more would this be true in our own lives if we did not so quickly react with force in the face of mystery? How many wars would be avoided? How many cultures reconciled? How many friendships formed, even? Certainly, we will encounter much in our lives that we do not understand, but opening ourselves to seeking a greater understanding of the unknown does not mean that we have to compromise our core identity. It means only that we recognize the God in each, just as we know the God in us.