Lessing’s THE WOLF AND THE SHEPHERD*

Posted by jlubans on June 02, 2020

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A SHEPHERD had lost the whole of his flock from a dreadful epidemic. The Wolf, hearing of it, came to offer his sympathy.
"Shepherd," said he, "is it true that you have met with this sad affliction, and have lost your whole flock? Such a gentle, obedient flock! I feel for you deeply, and could almost shed tears of blood."
"Many thanks. Master Wolf," said the Shepherd, "I see that you have a heart overflowing with compassion."
"Indeed he has," added the Shepherd's Dog, "whenever he himself suffers through a neighbour's misfortune."

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Another fable
comes to mind: “The Weeping Bald Man and Some Partridges”. One of the partridges empathizes with the Bald Man for his weeping while killing the partridges!
And there’s an observation by Alice in Wonderland when the Walrus and the Carpenter scarfed up all the little oysters:
(Of the two), "I like the Walrus best," said Alice, "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."
The shepherd is no fool; he’s well aware of the wolf’s depredations and fake crocodile tears. His response is droll, as they say.
And so it can be at work (or society), when we express empathy for the downtrodden. Compassion is better because it “does not mean sharing the suffering of another: rather, it is characterized by feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other, as well as strong motivation to improve the other’s well-being.”
There’s a stark difference in claiming to feel someone’s pain and doing something about it.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 8. Translated by G. Moir Bussey as excerpted in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”
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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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