“Wisdom in a Thimble: Fables for Managers”

Posted by jlubans on February 22, 2016

An invitation to speak at the National Library of Latvia* happily coincided with my interest in putting out an e-book based on this blog’s Friday Fable. My working idea is to select 100 of the fables – a feature of this blog since mid-2012 – and update my commentary for each fable. To add some cachet to the book, I’ll include a dozen original illustrations by Béatrice Coron.
So, the library’s invitation has gotten me beyond the initial thinking phase and more towards the doing part. (Indeed, the thimble metaphor in the title is one immediate result.)
The talk’s introduction will cover briefly several questions like: Who was Aesop and how did the Aesopic tradition come to be? Is it true that Aesop was a slave with disabilities? Is there any truth to that he somehow gained as an adult the gift of speech and a knack for telling clever stories? Finally, did his fables lead to his being hurled off of a cliff to his death at Delphi?
So there’s some romance to impart. But, let’s get literary:
What are fables compared to fairy tales, proverbs, folk sayings, etc? How can talking animals and plants offer any helpful hints for managers and workers? Isn’t there the risk that perusing fables is akin to a grownup’s playing in a sandbox? Are fables not mere childish things, like plush stuffed animals to be put away after a certain age, to be relinquished, however unwillingly?
We’ll see.
For myself, I cannot think of anything more apt for a library setting than talking about fables; they’re the stuff most of our readers were first exposed to when learning to read. It’s the stuff of family life, of learning the do’s and don’ts of life at the kitchen table or at mother’s knee as she sews or with dad as you ride with him on a tractor doing farm chores. An era, some would say, now long gone, ineffectually replaced with staring into smart phones for life lessons. But, I digress.
Are fables not a creative aspect of our being? Why else are we drawn to fables, pithy sayings and proverbs uttered by the likes of Saturnin, Sancho Panza, or Josef Švejk? Fables are all about observing the human condition.
Since I have written a dozen or so of my own fables, I plan to offer up some ideas on what triggers my thinking towards writing a fable, for example, “The Bear in the Tree.
Yes, a bit of “how I do it” but something I hope will prove useful to the audience since at the end of my presentation I will ask them, in small groups, to write a fable based on a Latvian or African proverb. The provided proverb will be the moral and their task will be to build a fable of their invention around it. A few of my favorites:
"’We have rowed well,’ said the flea as the fishing boat arrived at its mooring.”
“An ample backside will easily find a bench to sit on.”
“The ready back gets all the loads.”
“If there is a hailstorm, we all cover our heads.”

What is it about fables that appeal to me so much? Fables advise us on social values, and provide admonitions and rules-for-living. They inculcate common sense. They are pragmatic, practical and realistic. Some, of course, have more than one interpretation – what in life does not? Are we not always asked to consider both sides?
So, I find in fables thimble-size lessons for the workplace; thimblefuls of wisdom about how we behave to each other and cautions of man’s tendency to err. For example, in the fable about the frogs wanting a king, the frogs willingly give up self-rule for a tyrant, a crane, that consumes them. How many among us would willingly surrender uncertainty for someone to tell us what to do?
And then there’s the story of the drowning boy who, in need of a helping hand, instead gets a lecture on the foolishness of playing in deep water. How often, at work, have you heard, “I told you so” in lieu of “What can I do to help?”

*Caption: My venue. The National Library of Latvia at evening.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

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