Friday Fable. LaFontaine’s “THE SUN AND THE FROGS”*

Posted by jlubans on December 04, 2015

20151204-frogs_sun_.jpg
Caption: Aesop, the wide-eyed frog, lower left. Wood engraving by Percy J. Billinghurst, 1899.

Rejoicing on their tyrant's wedding-day,
The people drown'd their care in drink;

While from the general joy did Aesop shrink,
And show'd its folly in this way.
'The sun,' said he, 'once took it in his head
To have a partner for his bed.
From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs,
Up rose the wailings of the frogs.
"What shall we do, should he have progeny?"
Said they to Destiny;
"One sun we scarcely can endure,
And half-a-dozen, we are sure,
Will dry the very sea.
Adieu to marsh and fen!
Our race will perish then,
Or be obliged to fix
Their dwelling in the Styx!"
For such an humble animal,
The frog, I take it, reason'd well.'


LaFontaine’s poetic retelling of Aesop’s fable has an unusual structure. He begins with a drunken celebration of a tyrant’s (Louis XIV) wedding and slips in a dismayed Aesop who explains why the hoi-polloi should be wary not merry. The poem concludes with the climate-change-minded frogs realizing that if one “sun” is enough to dry up their pond, then a few more radiant stars will lead to certain doom.
My original take** on this fable was related to a tendency in some organizations to “procreate” like-mindedness among its employees resulting in low innovation and tentative decision-making. The cliché, “the acorn does not fall far from the tree”, pretty much encapsulates this phenomenon.

Today, I am reminded of recent research in which the more like-minded a group, the greater the probability it will polarize into groupthink. It gets worse. When a group is like-minded in extreme ways – no, it is not a condition unique to violent extremists but applies as well to hidebound members of very traditional organizations – that like-mindedness will polarize into a suicidal resistance to change and a willingness (among violent extremists) to perpetrate even worse atrocities.
In the workplace (innovative or traditional) we can counter groupthink through leadership that celebrates alternative thinking, that supports people with opposing points of view and that welcomes and defends differences. And, an organization that eschews groupthink deliberately recruits people who think critically, are independent in decision-making, and possess a bias for action.

*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. Available at Gutenberg.

**A retelling of this fable first appeared here in mid-2014.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week:
University of the Fraser Valley Library, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada.

That time of year idea. A Christmas gift for your favorite unboss or a boss in need of a new way of leading. Buy it here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

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