Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “The Two Mules.”*

Posted by jlubans on September 20, 2013

Caption: Before the fall.
“Two mules were bearing on their backs,
One, oats; the other, silver of the tax.
The latter glorying in his load,
March'd proudly forward on the road;
And, from the jingle of his bell,
'Twas plain he liked his burden well.
But in a wild-wood glen
A band of robber men
Rush'd forth upon the twain.
Well with the silver pleased,
They by the bridle seized
The treasure mule so vain.
Poor mule! in struggling to repel
His ruthless foes, he fell
Stabb'd through; and with a bitter sighing,
He cried, ‘Is this the lot they promised me?
My humble friend from danger free,
While, weltering in my gore, I'm dying?’
‘My friend,’ his fellow-mule replied,
‘It is not well to have one's work too high.
If thou hadst been a miller's drudge, as I,
Thou wouldst not thus have died.’”

Phaedrus appended this moral to his version of The Two Mules:
“That men of modest means
Can disdain the dangers that dog the rich.”

The fable and moral remind me of working in public and private institutions of higher learning; viz., at RPI, University of Colorado, University of Houston, Duke, North Carolina Central University and Rutgers. And, I have many professional colleagues in both sectors. While the privates (may) have a smidgeon more prestige, I wonder if it is not better to toil in public venues? As a rule, privates pay better, but unless you are of the culture, either born to or adopted, you may be regarded as an outsider, somehow not quite "the right fit". Many of the privates are church-related and amidst great kindnesses there are times when cloistered whispers aid and abet the inevitable organizational intrigue.
By law, state institutions are more open than the privates; skullduggery exists but its darkness may be circumscribed by the bright beams of sunshine pouring in through open portals. And, in the public realm, it is harder for the capricious boss to let someone go without explanation. Yes, these same protections may secure mediocrity but don’t be fooled; a subservient mediocrity exists at the privates. If you are an earnest and hard working person with creative ideas, your prospects are good in either type of institution; yet, over the long run, I’d pick, like the mule, the modest public enterprise.

*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: College of the Mainland

Copies of “Leading from the Middle,” and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership can be purchased at every online bookstore in the universe. If your library (pubic, college or university) does not have a copy, correct this egregious selection mistake!

Copyright John Lubans 2013
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