15. The Lion and the Mouse
Abraham Lincoln once said, "It may be an ant's life; but, I suppose to the ant, it is a rather important thing."
We tend to forget that even the smallest creature has an important role to play in life. We forget such things with some subtle self-important arrogance, simply because we do not need to remember. Being big and powerful does have its privileges.
Being big and powerful does have its privileges.
The fact that power is used or restrained is one thing, but why power is used or restrained is something else. The fact that power exists is a matter of the body, how power is used or restrained is a matter of the mind.
Wisdom can find many reasons to restrain the use of power. Perhaps it is a practical reason, such as not to waste energy needlessly. It might be a spiritual reason, such as to live and let live. Or, a reason to restrain power might simply be mercy or pity.
But, we should take notice of something more subtle in this scene—the essence of the conversation: that being, the tender wisdom of Gandalf compared to the frightened, vengeful and emotional reaction of Frodo. Watch carefully. Gandalf slows down Frodo, and Gandalf adjusts the depth of Frodo's perception. Gandalf grounds Frodo and causes Frodo to leave the moment and to look ahead to the greater life mission, in light of the available time.
Gandalf causes Frodo to leave the moment and to look ahead to the greater life mission in light of the available time.
Such as it is for Frodo and ourselves, each abrasion can be a cause—or an excuse—for a fight. And each fight we pick has the potential to burn a bridge.
The phrase, "burning a bridge" is a metaphor of destroying a path upon which we might later travel.
The phrase manifests in many ways. It might be allowing ourselves to lose a friend, deciding to breach a contract, not paying on time, filing a legal action, expressing an insult or slander, or taking undue advantage.
The phrase, "burning a bridge" is a metaphor of destroying a path upon which we might later travel. The phrase manifests in many ways.
Burning a bridge tends to include an abuse to a relationship, often from a selfish interest, and it almost always implies one thing: if we take this act, then we are willing to risk losing the thing—the metaphorical bridge—as a consequence.
Sometimes, it is simply failing to concede an argument to a friend; but, it should not matter with a friend whether we are right or wrong. If a true friendship is sacrificial, our pride should be subordinate to saving the friendship. Indeed, even being too smart for our own good tends to burn bridges, as Baltasar Gracian said in The Art of Worldly Wisdom, "It is good to be intelligent, but not a pedant. Much reasoning is a kind of disputing."
Like Frodo, in the heat of the moment, our vices of pride, vengeance, fear, and insecurity take over, and we tend to go into "I could care less" mode, ready to burn the bridge.
Sure, some bridges can be repaired later, if we get lucky. But, luck is bad life strategy. The rational questions we need to ask ourselves, if we can do it in the heat of the moment are, "Is it worth it?" Is this act worth losing the thing? Are we really gaining anything? What is the logical consequence of this act?
The real questions are, "Is it worth it?" Is this act worth losing the thing? Are we really gaining anything? What is the logical consequence of this act?
Almost always, there is an implicit disrespect associated with burning a bridge. Burning a bridge implies that we don't need that bridge—we don't want it—and that the bridge is not important enough to us to expend the effort to keep it. We simply don't care.
But, even if from from pure simple self-interest, it is often not wise to burn bridges. Some people call it, "what goes around, comes around" or "comeuppance." And, it is a broader than the Golden Rule, to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
It can have any cause, but the effect is the same. Keeping the bridge intact is a type of subtle respect for the other person, such that we will restrain in the moment, to view the larger mission of life together. Whether the courtesy of a king, the mercy of a victor, or the self preservation by the weak—each a different cause—the effect is simply to choose not to burn the bridge. To restrain in the moment, and to forgo pride, ego or some other self-interested passion and to preserve the relationship.
To restrain in the moment, and to forgo pride, ego or some other self-interested passion and to preserve the relationship.
Aesop taught us as much, more than 2,000 years ago with sublime simplicity. Aesop made a complex point with a story that can be understood by the simplest child or contemplated deeply for lifetimes by the most sophisticated philosophers and spiritual leaders.
The Lion and the Mouse
A Lion was asleep in the forest when a little Mouse accidentally ran across the Lion's nose.
Awaking, the Lion laid his huge paw on the tiny creature to kill her. “Spare me, please,” cried the little Mouse.
In his majesty, the Lion let her go.
Later, the Lion became caught in a hunter's net. The Lion was doomed and roared in distress.
The little Mouse recognized the Lion's roar and went to the Lion’s aid. The little Mouse gnawed at the rope net until the Lion was freed.
“You were kind to me," said the
little Mouse. "I am small, but I serve my purpose now for you.”
Now, as I have often said, and verily it is true, that Abraham Lincoln loved Aesop's Fables, counting it among his favorite books. So, rather than conclude, I will further the point one more brief step.
The U.S. Civil War was a most brutal war, fought between families and brothers, over a subject of caustic vitriol. Lesser men, perhaps normal men, might have led a country differently. But, as Providence would have it, the exceptional Lincoln was called upon at the exact moment of his necessity.
Let us examine how the lessons of Aesop's Fables manifested in Lincoln, as the victorious Lion in this metaphor, expressed from the close of his Second Inaugural Address. Let us watch closely the dichotomous broad humility of the man, not only as tenacious warrior, but also as merciful victor, trained by Aesop.
Let us watch closely the dichotomous broad humility of the man, not only as tenacious warrior, but also as merciful victor, trained by Aesop.
Abraham Lincoln did exactly no more or less than required by the circumstances, at both ends of the human spectrum. Perfect execution from the larger view, with wise use of choosing, as Gandolf said, "what to do with the time available to us."
Let us watch Lincoln's deepened humble majesty in the Second Inaugural Address, as fierce warrior (watch for the word, "Yet") and merciful victor (watch for the words, "Malice towards none"):
...Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.
It may seem strange that any
men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread
from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be
not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither
has been answered fully.
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?
Fondly do we hope, fervently
do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.
Yet, if God wills that it
continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and
fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of
blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword,
as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the
judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln knew how to preserve the bridges in our relationships together, when he could do so. Lincoln restrained from the common vengeance, understanding the wise use and purpose of mission and time.
Lincoln, as powerful as the Lion, and as the victor in war against very people who insulted and ridiculed him, even still did not choose to disrespect, but, instead chose the respect of tender mercy for others, to bind up and keep every bridge intact.
Yes, Lincoln, such as Aesop's Lion, respected the purpose and worth of even the lowly ant, and it made all the difference in our World.
The Business of Aesop™ is a series of short articles and newsletters by Gregg Zegarelli, Esq. applying the principles of Aesop to a business context. Copyright © Gregg Zegarelli 2015. All rights reserved. The fable summaries are excerpts from The Essential Aesop: For Business, Managers, Writers and Professional Speakers, Print 978-0-9899299-1-2, eBook 978-0-9899299-3-6, by Arnold Zegarelli and Gregg Zegarelli, Esq., Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.