Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “The Ass's Wish”*

Posted by jlubans on June 19, 2015

Caption: Weary Ass in Winter.

“An Ass was wishing in a hard Winter, for a little warm Weather, and a Mouthful of fresh Grass to knap upon, in Exchange for a heartless Truss of Straw, and a cold Lodging. In good time, the warm Weather, and the fresh Grass comes on; but so much Toil and Bus'ness along with it, that the Ass grows quickly as sick of the Spring, as he was of the Winter. His next Longing is for Summer; but what with Harvest-Work, and other Drudgeries of that Season, he is worse now than he was in the Spring and then he fancies he shall never be well 'till Autumn comes: But there again, what with carrying Apples, Grapes, Fewel, Winter-Provisions, etc. he finds himself in a greater Hurry than ever. In fine, when he has trod the Circle of the Year in a Course of restless Labour, his last Prayer is for Winter again; and that he may but take up his Rest where he began his Complaint.”

“The Life of an unsteady Man runs away in a Course of vain Wishes, and unprofitable Repentance: An unsettled Mind can never be at rest. There's no Season without its Bus'ness.”

I’m exploring ways to teach leadership in other than the usual, lecture on theories, assigned readings and such. The Friday Fables could address - in an indirect way - what we often encounter in workplace relationships and leadership.
We’d not have any acronyms to memorize, or, anything particularly pragmatic or formulaic to take away. Instead I’d emphasize the philosophical and ethical aspects in these stories - from across the centuries - as they may relate to our contemporary behavior and decision-making.
What, I would ask the class, is your perception of the appended moral to today’s fable. Is it unduly harsh in its blaming the “unsteady Man” for his “vain Wishes”, his “unprofitable Repentance” because, after all, “There's no Season without its Bus'ness.”

This fable (from the 15th century) suggests a variety of Herzberg's Motivators and (mostly) Hygiene Factors. His theory, as you know, concludes that organizations do too much of the hygiene and too little of the motivator factors. The ass’s dissatisfaction is literally due to negative hygiene factors as he vends his way around the “Circle of the Year in a Course of restless Labour”. So, would introducing a few positives (vacations, a pail of water, sick leave, weekends off, a retirement plan) make for a more creative and happy Ass? Or, would there be only less dis-satisfaction and no real satisfaction for the Ass?
How would the class address the tribulations of the “unsteady Man”?
Would students seek ways to influence the “unsettled Mind” in a co-worker or subordinate? I could use my Melanie case study:

You meet Melanie for coffee everyday. Lately, Melanie is telling you she is desperate to leave her job. It’d be the first thing she would do, only if… Melanie has lots of reasons why she can’t leave. You concur entirely with Melanie’s desire to leave – anyone this unhappy needs to try something else. But, the only action she takes is to complain to you. Today, she tells you, “I despise this job!”

What do you advise Melanie to do? Is she not a bit like the unhappy Ass dealing with his “Drudgeries”?
Envision a scenario that makes for an improved view of life for Melanie.
How can an organization help make things better for its employees? Or, is mankind never to be free of “restless Labour”? Should we just buckle down and slog on?

So you see, we could spend a class session or more discussing just this one fable. The outcomes, insights from this should be a better understanding of staff grievances - real and imagined - and what to do about them. Possibly, I’d add in a required reading, my chapter in Leading from the Middle: “’I’m So Low, I Can’t Get High’: The Low Morale Syndrome and What to Do about It.” An assigned reading, as a counterpoint to the fable, could help students make transfers from the story to the workplace.

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Olympic College, Haselwood Library. Bremerton, WA United State

© John Lubans 2015

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