Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 05 November 2007
Monday, 05 November 2007 23:03

Expecting the unexpected

Anyone who would like to do the best thing in the best possible way is faced with a terrible dilemma, namely, that there are as many opinions about what is best to do as there are people to say nothing about the fact that most people even have trouble agreeing on the best way to do it.  No matter how convinced you are that the only way to do something is to do it your way, there will be others who insist on doing it their way. No matter how right some people seem to be they almost always eventually do something that turns out wrong; and no matter how wrong some people seem to be, even they sometimes do something brilliantly right. The dilemma is, of course, when should I do it my way, in spite of what others say, or do it the other’s way, in spite of what I think?

Another fact of life we have to face is that no matter how well we prepare and anticipate possible problems, something will often go wrong anyway. The solution of our problem often causes problems for others. No matter how ready we are to handle the expected, the unexpected is sure to sometimes happen. The only way to expect the unexpected is to expect that when the unexpected happens we will manage to come up with some way of coping with it.  The best consolation and hope we have is the fact that some good things always seem to emerge from the bad things that happen.

Not long after President Eisenhower replaced President Truman in the White House, a crisis erupted in Hungary, when the Russian army invaded the country. For a while President Eisenhower seemed hesitant, not knowing what to do. Just about that time a reporter interviewed Mrs. Truman asking her what she thought her husband would have done. Without a moment’s hesitation she replied “He might not have done the best thing, but he would have done something.”

I think there is a good lesson in this for us. We don’t always have the luxury of research and planning. When something needs to be done, we just have to follow our instincts to accommodate the situation as we see it and act. Even an imperfect response is often better than no response at all. We just have to remember that we are not God. We can and do make mistakes. But in another way we are like God. As the saying goes, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” I would paraphrase it differently: ”To err is human, to correct one’s mistakes is divine.”

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates these points.


WHICH KIND OF ANTHILLS IS BEST?

Once upon a time there was a colony of ants that constructed the highest anthill in the whole region. It towered over all the nearby anthills and its ants were very proud of their achievement and thought themselves far superior to all the other ants. This, of course, made some of the other ants so mad that they began to enlarge their own anthills building them taller and taller, each trying to surpass the others.

Some ants, however, refused to be intimidated and were quite satisfied with their average size anthills. “Let the other fellows, if they want, spend all their energies and resources on construction. We are perfectly content with what we have. Let’s take advantage of the situation and go out to gather more food and provisions while the others are busy building.”

And there were also some colonies that had just begun to establish themselves and their anthills were still quite small. “Let’s keep ourselves small,” declared their leaders. “Look at how hard those other anthills have to work to enlarge and maintain their structures. Does it really help them to eat and stay alive? I say let’s just go gather food and come back and enjoy ourselves.”

Thus it was that all the level plain of the region was soon filled with three kinds of anthills: there were the skyscrapers rising above all the others; there were the little low ones dwarfed by all the others; and then there were all those in between which were not as small as the small ones but not as big as the big ones.

Each kind thought it was the most fortunate. The tallest ones believed they were so big they had nothing to fear from bad weather or attacking anteaters. The middle-sized ones felt they were protected from the wind and rain by the skyscrapers around them and that anteaters, of course, would first attack the biggest anthills since there were so many more ants there to eat, which would give them time to escape. The lowest felt secure in the shadow of all the bigger ones around them and were sure that no anteater would bother with a little anthill when there were so many others around with so many more ants in them.

Then one day a terrible storm descended on the plain with lightning, hurricane-force winds and torrents of rain. The anthill that was originally the tallest and which had caused all the competition was lucky. Since it was no longer the highest, the lightning struck its neighbor instead frying all the ants inside. The anthills within the perimeter were indeed spared the worst effects of the wind and driving rain, but some of them were crushed and destroyed when the anthills open to the full brunt of the storm toppled over on top of them, because their wide walls weakened by the pounding rain were no longer any match for the powerful gusts of wind.

Then the floodwaters began to rise. The skyscrapers with their broad bases were least damaged. The average-sized were harder hit and many of the smallest were washed away, though some were saved by the piles of debris from the larger structures fallen down around them keeping the floodwaters away.

When the storm had passed and the damage assessed, it appeared that only half of the smallest, half of the middle-sized and half of the skyscraper anthills had survived. The rest were gone.

The ants who remained barely had a chance to clean up the mess, because they were soon attacked by a bunch of hungry anteaters. Some anteaters went straight to the biggest anthills knowing that there they would find the greatest number of ants. Others avoided the biggest anthills expecting that their thicker walls would make it harder to get to the ants, so they turned to the middle-sized hills where there were also plenty of ants. Finally, some anteaters made a beeline for the smallest anthills, which didn’t contain so many ants, but would be very easy to destroy.

Fortunately for the ants there were many more anthills than there were anteaters, so by the time the anteaters left half of the anthills remained untouched and there were enough inner chambers and subterranean chambers in those attacked that about half of the ants in them escaped harm.

When it was all over, the ants got together in a big meeting to decide what to do, but no matter how long they debated they could never agree on which size of anthill was safest and best. To this very day all over the world ants of every kind are still discussing this point without any solution in sight. Likewise, the anteaters still argue about which size of anthill is most efficiently attacked first. As for the weather, storms don’t talk to each other. The wind doesn’t consult the rain, the lightning ignores both wind and rain and the floods just come and go as they please.

There are lessons hidden here.

For every pro there is a con. Whoever wins, someone loses. Not everyone who goes comes back. Not everyone lost is found.

Lightning won’t strike twice is no consolation for the one stuck once.

Annihilating ants would only drive anteaters to eat something else.   Would you like to have that on your conscience?

If you want to annihilate anteaters because they eat ants, why stop there? What about all those humans who eat meat?

It’s OK to live in an anthill, if you are an ant. All others are strongly advised to live somewhere else.

No matter how safe you make something, there is always something unexpected that might happen. My poor friend had a terrible accident    when he tripped on the Safety Manual he wrote that had fallen on the floor.

No matter how well you prepare for an expected storm, it brings along something you didn’t expect.

Since you always expect the worst, why do you complain so much when it happens?

It’s a good thing that we have another life to look forward to, because we never know when this one is going to end.

We can’t always choose what is going to happen to us, but we can almost always choose what to do when it happens.

Any anthill is better than camping in the open just because you can’t decide what kind of anthill you want.

It’s not the kind of house you live in that counts most, but the way you live in that house.

The biggest tragedy is not that tragedies strike, but that so many of those struck might have been saved had more precautions been taken or preparations made.

Many of the ants who survived were just lucky to be in the right place at the right time. But many more survived by doing the right thing when they found themselves in the wrong place.

The life of an ant is beset with dangers. That doesn’t keep them from being good ants.

On judgment day we won’t be asked how many accidents we managed to survive, but we might be asked why we didn’t do more to escape the one that killed us.
We live in a world beset with problems. There are many world crises that experts say are threatening the health and the livelihood of all earth’s inhabitants. There is the energy crisis, the global warming crisis, the social and political and economic crises signified by the growing gap between the rich and the poor, between the First World and the Third World, and finally the environmental pollution crisis together with the depletion and wasting of natural resources.

At the very same time, there many solutions proposed by experts that can alleviate or even eliminate these threats. Why then do they still remain?

Perhaps the most alarming and most amazing thing about these crises is not the dangers they impose, but the fact that so many people refuse to take them seriously.

Those who are most concerned have so far failed to agree upon any unified, common solutions that are acceptable to all.

Those with the political power to impose the measures necessary are more afraid of the costs or the complaints of the inconvenienced rather than on the hardships that will ultimately ensue if measures are not taken.

Why is it that in a world which is full of so many proposed solutions, so many problems still exist and so many solutions remain untried?

Let me illustrate the answer by telling an allegorical story.


THE CLIQUES THAT DIDN’T CLICK IN POORMANIA

Once upon a time in the mythical land of Poormania there was a huge gap between the very rich who wielded all the power and the very poor who greatly outnumbered the very rich but lacked political power. Some of the very Rich People had no time to enjoy their riches because they were too busy making more money. Some of the very Rich People were so busy enjoying the luxuries their wealth provided, they thought of nothing else. Some of the very Rich People felt uneasy to have so much while others had so little, but they did nothing about it or were at a loss what to do.

Some of the very Poor People were content to just enjoy as best they could the little they had, because there were no jobs and nothing else to do. Some of the Poor People did not complain, but just kept looking for employment and odd jobs to feed their families, Some of the Poor People were quite unhappy with their lot and were looking for ways to make things change.

At the same time there were lots of people in Poormania who were neither very rich nor very poor. Some of the Middle People just went about their lives quite oblivious of the problems of others. Some of the Middle People knew about the discrepancies between the Rich People and the Poor People, but thought it was none of their business or concern. Some of the Middle People profited by providing services for the enjoyment and amusement of the Rich People or by providing social services for the Poor People. Some of the Middle People felt uneasy and compelled to do something, but weren’t sure what.

There were basically eight kinds of Rich People.

Rich People One paid no attention to the Poor People and therefore were completely unconcerned.

Rich People Two looked down on the Poor People and condemned them as lazy and worthless scum, who had no one to blame but themselves for their sorry plight, so they ignored them.

Rich People Three felt sorry for the Poor People and wrote checks with tiny donations and thought they had done enough.

Rich People Four to show their concern for the Poor People complained loudly that the government wasn’t doing enough to help them, but they did nothing themselves.

Rich People Five saw an opportunity to make more money for themselves and hired more Poor People to work for them at the lowest possible salaries.

Rich People Six couldn’t understand why the Poor People were so dissatisfied and were very angry about the Poor People’s complaints and demonstrations and strikes and claimed that their ungrateful behavior meant that they didn’t deserve to be listened to.

Rich People Seven realized that it was hard for anyone with a family to survive on only the minimum wage, so they offered the Poor People opportunities for education and training so they could get better paying jobs.

Rich People Eight realized there is something wrong with a society in which those slaving at the bottom barely have enough to keep them alive while those at the top have so much more than they ever need. They began to campaign for social and economic reform and in particular that the Rich People should be satisfied with less and the Poor People earn more. They were joined by all the Rich People who believed that those who have should share with those who have not and by the Rich People who felt it just didn’t seem right to take so much for themselves while they gave so little to others.

At once Rich Peoples One to Seven were at the throats of Rich People Eight and their supporters. To give something to Poor People was a yes-yes that had to be tolerated, but to take anything away from Rich People was a no-no that could not be accepted. They were joined by all the Middle People, who profited from the luxurious items and services that the Rich People enjoyed.

There were also eight kinds of Poor People.

Poor People One were concerned only about the happiness of their families.

Poor People Two were content enough not to envy the Rich People, but felt pity for them having to work so hard to keep their riches.

Poor People Three couldn’t understand why the Rich People wouldn’t give them jobs and just kept trying to find work.

Poor People Four thought there was nothing wrong with taking whatever they could behind the backs of Rich People, so long as they didn’t get caught.

Poor People Five joined an organization publicly demon-strating and advocating social reform.

Poor People Six felt it was better to obey the law and suffer within the system, rather than to risk losing life and home through violence and revolt.

Poor People Seven believed the only way to achieve reform was through passive resistance.

Poor People Eight threw all caution to the wind and went to war against all the Rich People.

And what were the results of all these differing attitudes and opinions? Well, the Rich People were so divided among themselves whether or not to do anything or what to do, they ended up unable to find any good solution to the problem. The Poor People likewise never united behind any common action, so there were as many setbacks as there were gains.

Fortunately, the Middle People in Poormania, who were not so rich and not so poor, eventually did reach a consensus and had enough numbers and power to make the necessary reforms, so that for a while social justice and economic stability and public approval prevailed.

But then once again as so often happens, a few clever ambitious entrepreneurs rose up through the cracks to become the new Rich People and many less capable or exploited persons fell down through the cracks to become the new Poor People and Poormania ended up right back where it had been before.


There are lessons hidden here.

Too many of us turn our backs on problems that don’t seem to directly affect us and just let others worry about them. Few problems are ever solved by looking the other way. Why is it so hard to realize that the reason we so often end up with both cheeks dirty is because we neglected to wipe off the dirty cheek on time?

Many hands are better than one only if they work together.

Sometimes it is easier to just turn the other cheek, but often it would have been better to tweak the offender’s cheek.

It is always easier to agree on solutions that involve others. The hardest problems to face are those in which you yourself are a part of the problem. The hardest solutions to undertake are those that involve you yourself as part of the solution.

Consensuses based on convenient compromise tend to fall apart the moment they become inconvenient for anybody.

So, with so many willing hands, why is it so hard to agree on what is wrong or on how to make it right? When are we all going to sit down, weigh the options and finally begin to do something concrete and constructive?

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