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The challenge of American voters today bears a striking resemblance to the epic struggle of the puppet-boy Pinocchio.
As told by the Italian novelist Carlo Collodi in 1883, and faithfully reflected by Disney in 1940 and 2002, a kindly old wood carver named Geppetto made a little puppet. Longing to have a son, he named the puppet Pinocchio and prayed for it to become a real boy.
A Blue Fairy gave the puppet many qualities of a human, including motion, speech and decision-making. The puppet enjoyed life with his father and their pets Figaro and Cleo. Pinocchio also had a conscience, Jiminy Cricket, who warned him when he was about to disobey his dad or do something foolish.
On his way to school one day, Pinocchio fell in with a couple of boys who were playing hooky. The slick one was the impressively named J. Worthington Foulfellow, who sometimes liked to be called "Honest John." Despite the warnings of Jiminy Cricket, Foulfellow and his soft-spoken but stupid sidekick Gideon talked Pinocchio into going to work at a circus, where the puppeteer Stromboli promised all three that they would make a lot of money. But somehow only Stromboli got rich, and finally Pinocchio had to run away with the boys to restore his freedom.
Before Pinocchio could make up his mind to follow Jiminy Cricket back home, all three boys were conned again, this time by the lure of a vacation paradise, where taking it easy was the lifestyle.
A handsome vehicle pulled up, driven by a successful looking man, the Coachman. A spoiled brat named Lampwick jumped out and told the boys that they looked sick, but that he knew just the cure: the easy life at a place called Pleasure Island.
Pinocchio followed the other two boys into the coach, and off they went, leaving behind Jiminy Cricket to go pursue the pleasures of eating, drinking, smoking and playing pool. The more the boys did these things and believed the Coachman's lies, they grew big ears and a tail and began to look like donkeys.
For Disney, when Pinocchio told his own lies, his nose grew longer. The boys could not escape the Coachman’s snares, and to get off Pleasure Island, they had to jump into the ocean. All Pinocchio wanted now was to return home and find Geppetto.
On the way he was swallowed up by a terrible whale called Monstro, but thanks to the Blue Fairy, they were rescued and made it back home. When Pinocchio promised to go to school, stay home and obey his father, the Blue Fairy declared that he had now become a real boy.
Now, one big election has just passed, I'm not going to tell you to vote red or blue in any election, but if we want to be real, live voters, and elect real, live leaders, if we want to go back home to the good old days and make our Founding Fathers proud, we might look to the story of Pinocchio for some valuable lessons for any Election Day:
Before you vote to change our society, think long, hard and independently about how well everybody will really fare in that new society, because to solve our common problems, we all need to work together.
Before casting your vote, or even casting your opinion out in a harsh argument, seek a quiet, calm retreat, and listen there to the soft voice of your conscience. So that you don't betray the spirit of your political forefathers, ask it to tell you when you are about to do something foolish.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach with offices in Middletown, Lexington and Shelbyville and can be reached at mynewlife.com.