7.6.11

The old man and the demotivational poster.

You folks might recall the wisdom of John C., a colleague who's a jester in the style of the classic fables - the sort of person who hides his wisdom in harmless words, so that he may say them freely and let them be discovered only by an audience ready to listen.

Today, someone at the greenhouse recited Aesop's fable of "belling the cat" on the internal message board, implying that we were trapped in an existence that none were willing to change. I was content to offer a sympathetic shrug and a what-can-you-do... thus proving his point, I admit. That's probably the thing I like the least about black office humour (e.g., "you don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps"). It offers solidarity, but it requires an admission of defeat. It implies that sympathy is preferable to change.

John decided to reply with a fable of his own, however:
So the story goes that in the 1800s, the village where my ancestors
resided (Brutsk, near the Roumanian border) was being terrorized. Bandits,
that had a camp in a nearby forest, would steal, kill and maime whenever
they felt like it. The villagers had a town meeting, but like the mice in
your story, none had an answer to their misery. Then an elder stepped
forward. Leo Chervonohorodzky said something had to be done, and he would do
it. He was 106 years of age, very little to lose. He would go into that
bandit camp with an axe, and anyone who believed in the future, believed in
making a better life for their family, should follow and fight impossible
odds as well.
No-one did.
Two things happened. The first was that no-one saw old Leo again. The
second was that the attacks by the bandits stopped.
There are probably as many endings, interpretations, jokes and moral
issues as there are readers looking over this.
It's not easy to push back against a tide of low morale, but I like this approach. Offer a story of heroism, but don't try to cast yourself as the hero, and don't push a course of action on others. Let people read into it what they want to read, but most of all... make sure it's the last story that gets told. It doesn't have to be a story that wins all arguments. It just has to be a story to which there is no reply.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.