Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “THE HORSE AND THE ASS.”*

Posted by jlubans on August 16, 2013

20130816-Typhoo11horseandass.jpg
Caption: Aesop’s and La Fontaine’s fables often used in advertising.
In such a world, all men, of every grade,
Should each the other kindly aid;
For, if beneath misfortune's goad
A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.

There jogg'd in company an ass and horse;
Nought but his harness did the last endorse;
The other bore a load that crush'd him down,
And begg'd the horse a little help to give,
Or otherwise he could not reach the town.
'This prayer,' said he, 'is civil, I believe;
One half this burden you would scarcely feel.'
The horse refused, flung up a scornful heel,
And saw his comrade die beneath the weight:--
And saw his wrong too late;
For on his own proud back
They put the ass's pack,
And over that, beside,
They put the ass's hide.

And so it is at work when we criticize colleagues in front of library users and others. It’s easy, in library land, to fall into this trap. If you are involved with the public, well then you appear to work wonders. Of course, your “magic” is only doing your job and thanks to a huge behind-the-scenes effort you are able to do it well. So, when the professor goes on about how some things are hard to find in the catalog or on the shelf, do you commiserate and tell him “It’s those technologically challenged catalogers!” or do you shoulder part of the “burden” and find out what he is talking about and then share that information with your colleagues in cataloging?
Your rejecting any of the “burden” of something gone awry diminishes – like La Fontaine’s haughty horse - you, the library and what it is trying to do. That gossipy professor won’t forget your concurrence, tacit or otherwise. Probably, if properly primed, he’ll spread the snide news far and wide, regardless if it be credible or not.
Similarly, when a department claims to be the ruby in the library’s tiara - all the while demeaning others at every turn - I am unwilling to share in the acclaim. The best teams speak not ill of their opponents nor should the best department speak ill of its counterparts. It is why in the list of characteristics of highly effective teams, I always include “interdependence”. The best know full well they are part of a whole and do not stand alone – like some believe they do - radiating perfection over a landscape of mediocrity.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New
Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

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