As a relatively recent resident of Beeville and non-native Texan, I have no personal history in this region—no long-standing alliances or animosities. Although I was born in the U.S., my parents came from very different worlds bringing rich cultural, linguistic and storytelling traditions with them. From my father’s side come two fables handed down for generations, which I’d like to share in the hopes they might bring some understanding to the ever-evolving situation at Coastal Bend College.
One starts with five blind monks standing around an enormous elephant: Each is asked, “what’s an elephant like?” The one holding his tail says, he’s like a long thin rope; the one hugging his leg says, he’s like a thick tree trunk; the one touching his ear says, he’s like a large flat leaf; the one petting his torso says, he’s like a tall leathery wall; and the one tapping his tusk says, he’s like a smooth, pointy piece of bamboo. The moral here is that each is right and wrong. None of the monks knows what the elephant is like as a whole. But, if they talk to one another, trade places and move around feeling every part, all would have a better understanding of the entire elephant.
The other fable tells of a poor Chinese farmer whose horse runs away. The townspeople say, “Oh no, now you can’t plough your fields! What terrible luck!” The farmer says, we’ll see. The next day, the horse comes back bringing a whole herd of wild horses with her and the townsfolk say, “Aha, what wonderful luck! Now you’re rich!” The farmer says…maybe. While training one of the wild horses, the farmer’s only son is thrown and breaks a leg. “How horrible! Now you have no one to help you!” say the townspeople. To which the farmer replies, we’ll see. A war breaks out in the land, and all the young men are being drafted but, with a broken leg, the son can’t go. “How fortunate you are! You won’t be left alone!” say the townsfolk. Once again, the farmer says…maybe.
Both stories convey ancient but universal wisdom. The Chinese farmer reminds us that the most peaceful and dignified way to live is with a sense of humility, recognizing that what first appears to be a great misfortune can eventually become the greatest good fortune and vice-versa. The monks remind us that each individual understands only a fraction of reality, that no person has a monopoly on truth, and every perspective is incomplete at best. Whether poor or powerful, popular or pariah, highly educated or high school dropout, every single human being is finite and imperfect yet has something of value to contribute to his/her community. So, why not come together, finding strength and solidarity in this shared human condition and applying the moral of these stories to the challenges facing CBC? If nothing else, perhaps such fables can inspire folks to reflect or broaden their horizons at least a little bit.
Dr. C.E. Atkinson