Tuesday, May 17, 2016
The Fire And The River - A Parable
Once upon a time, there was a pretty village, built up in the hills over a river.
The village had at one time been quite prosperous.There were fish to be caught,game, berries, nuts and fruit to be gathered in the nearby woods and even pelts and other goods that the village traded to other villages along the river.
But over time, the village had become rundown and less prosperous. The village chiefs, their followers and ceremonial guards devoted less time to keeping the village in good repair and wealthy. Game became scarce as the animals gradually left the nearby forest, but there were few hunting parties looking for new sources of meat and hides. Fishing boats and their nets were neglected and the village buildings themselves became rundown and seedy, except for the huts where the chiefs and their friends and followers lived.
Part of the reason for the decline was that the chiefs, their families, their closest supporters and their ceremonial guards seemed to concentrate less on the village and the people's well being then they did on demanding and hoarding a bigger and bigger share of what wealth the villagers produced for themselves.
Those whom openly complained about this or those whom were caught trying to secretly keep more of what they hunted and gathered for themselves instead of handing it over to the authorities were publicly shamed before the whole tribe, and sometimes even beaten by the guards and thrown in a makeshift jail. But the murmuring continued, and the people of the village became more and more discontented with their lot.
Then came the day of the Great Fire.
It broke out in the woods just below the village and leapt up the hills, destroying everything before it and heading towards the village itself. Many years ago, the villager had erected an artificial pool of river water with a sluice for exactly this purpose, to fight any fires that broke out. But like much else in the village, the pool had been neglected. Too much of the water had evaporated and not been replaced and there was little time bring more river water up to refill it.
The chiefs and their followers tried to restore order but were hampered by the arguments that broke out among them and their followers about whose fault this was and who was supposed to be in charge of the pool. Meanwhile, the flames kept getting closer and closer to the village.
The people of the village likewise had their differences. Some took cisterns down to the river to fill it with water, even though it was obvious they were going to be too late to stop the fire. "Things are just great here in the village" they cried, even though it had been a long time since things really had been that great there. They believed what their chiefs and village officials had been telling them for months and still trusted them,so they proceeded to do things the same old way.
Many of the villagers hung back, since they could see that the flames had already reached the village and were licking hungrily at the buildings. Some rushed to their huts and brought out a few treasured possessions. But then what?
Believe it or not,an argument broke out among them too!
One man, a rich trader named Donaldus claimed he had an answer. "I know a spot just up the river with a green valley where we can rebuild and make our village great again! i know just how we should do it too. Follow me into the river!"
And many did, jumping into the water from the small ten foot cliff with their belongings and heading down river after Donaldus.
Others refused outright. Donaldus had never been a chief or even a village official. Who did he think he was? Besides, the village way was not to jump off the small cliff, but to walk down the path from the hills. Everybody knew that.
"Donaldus is not only loud,crude and nasty, but he has never had any sense of our village traditions.Only fools like him would follow him. And if his plan's so good, why doesn't he sit down and share all the details with us? What a reckless idiot," some of them said. And their voices were loud.
Others were wracked with uncertainty. "Well, you may be right but look! The fire has already burnt through the village, and it's heading this way towards the cliff. And the path downhill to the river looks like it's almost blocked by the flames. The chiefs and their followers are calling on us to follow them, but I don't think they have any idea of where they're going, just running like a herd of animals."
At this point there was a major division of the people. Some decided to follow their chiefs as best they could, even to disaster. A second group decided they would neither follow Donaldus or the chiefs."Neither of them are worth following." Some of them talked of electing a new chief from among themselves, someone who would lead them in the traditional way down the hill to the river.
Meanwhile, the flames got closer as they talked and argued. And finally a number of them decided to try the leap from the cliff into the river, to the jeers and name calling from the others.
One young man named Brutus finally decided to try to leap off the cliff with his wife and child to the river. But as he walked towards the edge his old friend Marcus tried to dissuade him. "Don't be an idiot and follow that fool Donaldus," he said. "Stay here, stick with our traditions. After the fire, we will rebuild our village and take over from the chiefs. Anyone who follow Donaldus will regret it."
"Marcus, you are well known in the village Councils and speak in the square every day. You have always been a strong voice for our taboos and traditions. But what are you going to do now?" asked Brutus.
"Whatever's left after the fire the chiefs will come back with their guards and rule over. They will be even worse than they were before! We will not be able to change anything, ever. And what about the fire now? It's getting closer!"
"I'm sticking to our traditions and principles," replied Marcus. "Eventually we'll take over somehow, have our own new chiefs and go back to our traditions. Going into the water from the cliff is morally wrong, Donaldus is not to be trusted at all and anyone who does it is stupid."
"But Marcus, if we stay here we burn. Maybe the water's not so bad...people seem to be swimming in it. Maybe Donaldus actually knows what he's talking about. Why not chance it? Those like you who stay here will burn for sure. Or at best, be enslaved even more than they were."
Marcus glared at him. "I'm not going to compromise my principles. I'd rather burn than do that, and you're the one who's going to regret it. Be a fool, jump into the water. I'm not following a idiot and clown like Donaldus."
So Brutus and his family jumped. Surprisingly, they were able to swim in the river easily and even managed to find a small fishing boat to cling to so they could occasionally rest as they swam.
As Brutus looked up at the cliff one last time, he saw the flames encircling it. Then he looked forward, because he had made his choice.