When I was just a youngster, fables, allegories, parables, and fairy tales used to delight and occupy me for many a pleasant hour. Legends, and myths, and more adult fictions, would entertain me too, through the growing years. When at last I first tried my hand at writing, I followed a primary rule for writers – ‘write about what you know’. So I would write about what I did, what I saw, what I wanted, how I felt – stuff like that, all factual.
Gradually I tried my hand at other forms of writing, and created short fictional stories, and poetry, and plays. In most of these efforts, creative flights of fancy played the leading role. When I graduated into doing newspaper commentaries, I soon realized that many of the other columnists in this federation were in the habit of masquerading fictions as facts, and perpetuating some myths or legends that would best be forgotten. But what is even more remarkable is that raw material is available that seems more like fable, fairy tale, or fiction, than the facts they actually are.
This material is all around us in the form of public figures, including business proprietors, politicians, policemen; and private persons such as homeowners, wage earners, and retirees. The interaction between these groups provides as much of the stuff out of which parable, fable, or fairy tale can emerge, as you might find on the shelves in any bookstore. Some of the goings on in our community remind me very powerfully of our traditional Anansi stories, while other things remind me just as poignantly of Aesop’s fables.
“Belling the Cat” is one of the fables that is most applicable to almost every element of our community, because as the wise old mouse says “it is often easier to suggest a plan than to carry it out.” “The goose with the Golden Eggs” is applicable to those who learned too late that it takes time to win success. Similarly, the tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare” reveals that “slow and steady wins the race.” In one of the Anansi stories, “The Liars Contest,” the title so aptly befits a certain category that I need not mention it here, but it is mainly individuals within the community whom are best recognized within these characterizations.
Some years ago, I complained in the press about a bent iron post that was obstructing pedestrian traffic, and suggested that the proper authorities either straighten it out or remove it. When nothing was done after a few weeks, I took it upon myself to remove it with a hacksaw, bruising a few knuckles in the process. Another time I took it upon myself to try to salvage some ancient water-damaged records behind the old Treasury Building, after notifying the authorities that the materials were exposed to the elements. I was threatened with arrest and soon gave up after trying to do what I considered to be my civic duty.
I’m not sure if there are any parables or fables that reflect those experiences, but I think there ought to be, and so maybe I’ll get to work on constructing some. But I know that there are other individuals whose interactions invite even more compelling comparisons to fables. Surely readers can recognize familiar characters in the story of “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” This clearly applies to someone pretending to be what he is not. Then there is the story of “The Miller, His Son, and the Ass.” As the Miller and his son are taking the ass to the market, they are chided by some people for walking when they could ride on the back of the ass, and scolded by others for overburdening the poor beast when they do. The beast eventually escapes and the Miller and son end up with nothing after trying to please everybody!
In the fable of “The Lion and the Mouse”, the lion who befriends the mouse instead of crushing it as he could have, is later saved by the mouse’s gnawing through ropes to free him after he had been captured. Little mercies can bring great rewards, but how many of these do we know of…?
The mischievous shepherd boy who falsely cried “wolf!” once too often, is one of the best known of Aesop’s fables, and a primary example of why habitual liars are not believed, even when they occasionally tell the truth. Unfortunately, we do not have to search hard to find similar characteristics in our midst.
“The Dog in the Manger” is not only another instructive story, but an all too prevalent attitude in our community. The tale finds a cross and selfish dog in a manger. When the hungry oxen come to feed on the hay that has been put there for them, the dog sets up a wild and fearsome barking, scaring the other animals off and preventing them from feeding. This attitude prevents others from securing what they need and enjoying what you can’t use yourself.
Our community has too many fables being acted out by real people, who are engaged in real situations, in real life. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad, all of them will affect some of us in some way. Those of us who wield the greatest power, almost certainly have the greatest impact. The time is once again rapidly approaching, for the rest of us to decide who to entrust with that kind of power.
It might be helpful for those trying make the decision, to compare the campaigning candidates with some fables and parables. It would hardly make sense to vote for a “Dog in the Manger” or a “Wolf in Sheep’s clothing”, would it? It might make a lot of sense though, to throw your weight behind the Lion who befriended the mouse. There are a host of other stories and tales that can be used to help gauge a candidate’s fitness for office though. All I’ve offered here is a view from my limited perspective. But I’m willing to concede that there might be a much better approach. If there is, I’d like to hear about it. In the meantime I’m going to check out a few fairy tales. See ya…