Friday Fable. Phaedrus’ “THE SAPIENT ASS”*

Posted by jlubans on January 12, 2018

Caption: Loaded donkey, Jurriaan Cootwijck, 1724 - 1798

“In all the changes of a state,
The poor are the most fortunate,

Who, save the name of him they call
Their king, can find no odds at all.
The truth of this you now may read—
A fearful old man in a mead, (meadow)
While leading of his Ass about,
Was startled at the sudden shout
Of enemies approaching nigh.
He then advised the Ass to fly,
‘Lest we be taken in the place:’
But loth at all to mend his pace,
‘Pray, will the conqueror,’ quoth Jack (the Ass),
‘With double panniers** load my back?’
‘No,’ says the man. ‘If that’s the thing,’
Cries he (the Ass), ‘I care not who is king.’”
It was important for me - as sapient as any ass - to learn from the staff that worked for my “direct reports”.
To that end, I visited each department and talked with the staff, not just the super.
My doing so was considered unusual and some did not know how to take this “reaching out”.
I explained I wanted to know what they were thinking about their work, what was on their minds and whether they had suggestions for improvement.
Some used my visits to complain about the air conditioning and parking, etc. Like Jack the Ass, they saw my visits as window dressing which would make no difference in work conditions (“I care not who is king.”)
A few saw my being there for what it was: a chance to let an administrator know about some observed deficiency or work flow impasse, like having to share computer terminals.
While I could do little about climate control and parking, I could do something about streamlining work flow.
When I convened a monthly meeting of support staff, the same dynamics came into play. Some had nothing to offer – either they had no ideas or were suspicious of my motives. It made no difference who was in charge; their burden would remain the same.
Others, unlike our Jack, saw a way to lighten their load.
Ideas from the people doing the work raised our productivity to unprecedented heights.

Caption: Bust of Phaedrus, born in Macedonia, 15 BC, died in Italy, 50 AD.

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913.

** Laura Gibbs, in her translation, uses the term “pack saddle” not “panniers”. Double panniers are common (one pannier on each side of a saddle). In other words, regardless of master, the donkey’s burden (one saddle) will remain the same.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

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