Virtually everyone who speaks English has used the phrase “rat race” to describe the pace of modern life, but few people understand how the term came into being. Many people inside and outside of the swampy bottoms of the DC Beltway would agree that, indeed, Washington is even more of a rat race these days than usual.
As with many phrases in the English language, once you understand the origins, the meaning becomes even more delightful.
Back in the epoch of Medieval plagues, one of the many epidemics that swept Europe was not only carried by rats, but it also infected them. The rodents were first affected by extreme thirst, then hunger, then disorientation, then extreme fatigue. As a rat reached the final stage it would fall down, helpless, just lying wherever it had fallen.
Pretty soon another rat, perhaps just in the first stages of the disease, would happen by and, seeing its fellow furry compadre totally helpless and looking delicious, would settle down to dine.
Rats being rats, the morsel of choice was the anus of the poor creature lying helpless, and so as brother (or sister) rat began gnawing at its tender parts, the first rat would begin to inch along, trying to escape the teeth burrowing from behind.
But soon, since rat #2 was also sick and disoriented even while dining, rat #3 would happen by and – voila – the feast would begin anew at the hind end of rat #2.
So now we would have three rats, each concentrating on eating the juicy anus of the one in front while trying to escape being eaten from behind.
While the spectacle would most often grow to resemble a bloody little Conga line, occasionally a full circle would form. Needless to say, this sight would attract human spectators and, people being the creatures that they are, bets would be placed on which rat would be the ultimate survivor. Or, rather, which rat would die last, since there were never any actual survivors. So, while there was no announcer to cry “And they’re off”, this everyday sporting event in the streets of London quickly came to be called a “Rat Race”.
Charming, no? And how appropriate that this is the phrase of choice to describe the activities of the creatures of the Beltway swamp.
Gentlemen (and ladies) – place your bets. My bet is on the rodent with the orange fur.
There is so much to hate and fear in today’s world that the hideous aspects of human nature seem to be on a steady march to dominate our lives, but this has probably always been so. When the world of each person was limited to what they could experience directly, within reach of where they lived and worked, it was a very small world compared to the global community that most of us now inhabit. But even in the world of a small town, or even in the isolated world of a home far out on the prairies or deep in a forest or high among the mountains, all of the elements of hatred, cruelty, fear, greed, brutality, and other manifestations of the dark side were always present, and probably always seemed unstoppable.
Because of the global reach of our perceptions today, the presence of evil appears to be multiplied to the point where it can be overwhelming. There is just so much suffering and pain caused by so many truly evil people – how is it possible for the good, the beautiful, and the loving side of life to survive?
Before the internet, and thus before it was possible to see into every corner of the world and know that evil is everywhere, Gandhi saw into every such place through his enlightened vision, and among the many things he communicated to those of us who despair was:
“If we take a total view, we shall see that it is not wickedness but goodness which rules the world. The wicked can prevail only when they number multitudes, but goodness will rule when embodied to perfection even in one person. Nonviolence has been described as so powerful that all forces of violence subside in its presence. Under its influence, even beasts forget their nature. Even one good person can change the world.”
“Where wickedness prevails, there is disorder in every field of life, but where goodness rules, order prevails and people are happy. They are happy not in the sense that their material needs are satisfied, but in the sense that they lead virtuous and contented lives. As for material possessions, some men have fortunes in rupees and yet have a distracted life. That is no sign of being happy.”
When I find myself becoming overwhelmed by the ignorant, brute, seemingly unstoppable forces of evil in this world I turn to one image and, for me, this image confirms that beauty and love will always prevail, long after those who are evil incarnate have turned to dust. This image is, for me, proof that love and beauty survive and will, in the end, inherit the earth. I offer you this image in the hope that you too will take it as proof that love survives when those who manifest evil have long vanished.