The Siren Song

When I was in the 7th grade, my social studies teacher read Homer’s “Odyssey” to our class over the course of a semester. That sprawling chronicle was a gift to my 13-year-old self, and my more-than-four-decades self remains enthralled with all the characters of the Greek imagination.

For me, the “Odyssey’s” most fearful critters were the Sirens. These were hybrid creatures – part bird, part beautiful woman – living on a small island. From their rocky outcrop they sang the most captivating songs, songs that passing sailors could not resist.

Like the proverbial moth to a flame, the sailors would scuttle their ships on the island reefs, and the Sirens would descend upon the poor mariners and devour them. The “Siren Song” has been a warning ever since, a warning to stay the course, and to beware the destruction that can hide behind charm and beauty.

There are endless applications; for individuals, faith communities, families, and businesses. There are many things a person can focus on, many different ideas that can monopolize a group’s attention. Yet, these multifarious options can become distracting, deadly so, if the “weightier matters” are abandoned.

The Twelve Step movement has this tradition: “We have few opinions on outside issues.” That community understands that there are only a few necessary things upon which to concentrate. Healing, recovery, and restoration for those who suffer: Anything that falls outside this work, noble as it may be, is a diversion.

It’s a refreshing approach, especially when people and organizations in trying so hard to “be all things to all people,” end up being mostly nothing to nobody. Those who are effective, whether they be individuals, groups, communities of faith, or mom-and-pop market shops, are those who have a narrow aim. They aren’t narrow minded, but are narrowly and precisely focused.

If you are not careful – and this is especially true for idealistic, hard-charging, types – you will get entangled with things that you can’t really do anything about, or you will lose yourself down rabbit holes you had no business exploring. In the meanwhile, you will miss out on being totally engaged in the work most important to you. You only have so much time, energy, and passion. Use these on the people, causes, and beliefs that really matter to you.

Back to the “Odyssey:” When the protagonist, Odysseus, knew his crew would have to sail past the Sirens he took drastic measures. He plugged the ears of his boatmen with beeswax lest they be distracted by the Siren Song, and to protect himself, “He bound his hands and feet to the mast” lest he shipwreck his soul.

Odysseus, as I recall, only wanted to get home. That was his only goal and what drove him to be, in a word, disciplined. You will have to be the same. It’s the only way to reach your goals and avoid the distraction of the many and varied voices calling you away from your own life.

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