Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “The Dove and the Ant.”*

Posted by jlubans on February 22, 2013

“A dove came to a brook to drink,
When, leaning o'er its crumbling brink,
An ant fell in, and vainly tried,
In this, to her, an ocean tide,
To reach the land; whereat the dove,
With every living thing in love,
Was prompt a spire of grass to throw her,
By which the ant regain'd the shore.
A barefoot scamp, both mean and sly,
Soon after chanced this dove to spy;
And, being arm'd with bow and arrow,
The hungry codger doubted not
The bird of Venus, in his pot,
Would make a soup before the morrow.
Just as his deadly bow he drew,
Our ant just bit his heel.
Roused by the villain's squeal,
The dove took timely hint, and flew
Far from the rascal's coop;--
And with her flew his soup.”

A good friend commented wryly on my recent post about staff having the freedom to help people regardless of the rules. But, in some organizations, he said “No good deed goes unpunished.” Here the dove’s good deed saves her life. In some organizations, nameless of course, there is another prevailing condition: “No bad deed goes unrewarded.”

I think his meaning in no good deed going unpunished was in the context of a workplace in which a staff member goes out of her way to help someone; she may have to cross (horrors!) departmental lines or to take some extra time away from an assigned duty. And, in helping the client is then criticized by a supervisor for exceeding her authority. To those who say this is insubordination, a dereliction of duty, harrumph(!), etc., I would say, with an atrocious French accent, Au contraire, mon ami! Rather, this is doing what it takes to help the client and it should be what workers everywhere have the freedom to do. My apoplectic supervisor responds, “But what you blithely suggest could mean someone's deserting their station, or someone's spending precious time away from more important work! Worse, it is unfair to those clients we serve poorly. Oops, delete that!"

What was more important work for the dove? The truth be told, offering unstinting help to people in need, means a greatly expanding pool of clients who will not forget the favors done nor their source. If the staff member errs, that’s not a world-ender. An apology will go a long way when the worker means to help not to harm.
And, overzealousness, as some might fear, will have its own restraint of time and energy and other work awaiting.

I like this fable’s picture so much, here it is large:
20130222-Friday Fable.jpg
Caption: THE DOVE AND THE ANT by the artist

*Source: "A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine" by Jean de La Fontaine, London; New York: John Lane Co., 1900

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