Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Modern Fable Updated

Latest Newspaper Column:

You may remember the fable I told a while back about the village and the shepherd boy.

After people in the village were killed in a wolf attack, the shepherd boy and his friends used the villagers' fear and sorrow to get them to attack the old bear who lived in the woods far away.

When some villagers tried to point out that it wasn't the bear who attacked them and they didn't think the bear was any real threat, the shepherd boy and his friends shouted them down and called them "wolf-lovers." Anyone who questioned their insistence that the bear was a major and growing threat to the village was branded an enemy of the village who wanted the wolves to attack again.

Well, you know how the story ended. As it turned out, the old bear really didn't have any teeth. He was no threat to the villagers, and there was never any evidence the bear had been behind the wolf attacks. But the shepherd boy still insisted he'd been right.

Unfortunately, in the years since the story ended, things got worse. More wolves moved into the forest around where the bear lived. Many more men of the village were killed, even more than had been killed in the attack on the bear. Some of the people who lived in the forest got tired of soldiers around all the time and started to turn against them. The villagers found themselves at war with the people they'd tried to protect from the wolves and the bear. The clans of the forest people even revived their old feuds and began killing each other as well. The forest was plunged into chaos.

None of this seemed to bother the shepherd boy and his friends.

"We're stacking up wolf bodies like cordwood!" the shepherd boy chortled.

"Yeah," the people of the village replied wearily, "but when does it stop?"

"When there's victory, wolf-lovers!" the shepherd boy snapped.

"And when is that?"

"When we win!"

Fewer and fewer people believed that the shepherd boy knew what he was doing. Some days only 28 percent of the villagers were willing to say they liked him, and some even wanted him replaced as shepherd boy. But he continued to act as if everyone believed him, and the cowardly village elders were still afraid of being called disloyal, so they sent more men into the forest to die every time the shepherd boy demanded it.

One day, the shepherd boy appeared in the village square.

"I have bad news to report," he said. "A new threat is growing in the forest."

"Oh, good grief," some of the people said, "what now?"

"The dragon that lives in the forest," the shepherd boy said in a dark, impressive tone, "is learning to breathe fire!"

"You mean the big lizard?" the people said. "Breathing fire? We know he doesn't like us, but... "

"If we don't do something," the shepherd boy yelled, "he's going to rain fire down on us!"

"Wait," the people said, "he can fly?"

"He might! And he's helping the wolves!" he yelled. "Do you doubt what I say? Wolf lovers! Wolf! Wolf!"

"Well, yeah," the people said. "We do kind of doubt you after the whole bear thing."

The shepherd boy was growing hysterical. "We need to stop the dragon from learning to breathe fire!" he said. "And we need to do it NOW! It's going to be the end of the world! Once the dragon learns to breathe fire, he'll give the power to the wolves! Wolf! Wolf! "

"What are you going to stop him with?" the people asked. "All our soldiers are busy fighting the wolves and the forest clans." But the shepherd boy ignored them. He and his friends continued to set up a huge noisy clamor over the fire-breathing dragon.

"OK," the people said, "lets ask the scout whom we send into the forest to look for threats. Can the dragon breathe fire? Is he about to learn?"

The scout shuffled his feet and looked down at the ground. "Um, no," he said finally. "He can't breathe fire. He shut down his whole fire-breathing program four years ago. Even if he started up again, it'd be 10 years before he could breathe enough flame to light a campfire."

"See! See! What did I tell you?" the shepherd boy said triumphantly.

"What? Are you nuts? Did you hear the scout's report?" the people said. "He said the dragon wasn't trying to learn to breathe fire."

"Which only goes to prove my point that we have to act NOW to stop the dragon from learning to breathe fire. Didn't you hear what I said about the end of the world?"

At that, the village elders had had enough. They worked up the courage to turn their backs on the shepherd boy and vowed that, no matter how much he blustered and insulted them, they weren't going to listen to him anymore. And they all lived happily ever after.

If only it were like that in real life. ...

1 comment:

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