A Fable for Our Time

By David Swanson

Several years ago we started a community garden where I live. We worked at it quite energetically. We got more and more people involved. Much of the hardest work involved digging irrigation ditches to bring water to the soil.

We made progress slowly. We brought water to little corners of the garden. But the work was exhausting, and some people burned out and needed to take a break. Usually they’d be back within a year and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of us again.

The work was hard but extremely enjoyable. The camaraderie of it was a benefit whether or not the garden was yet prospering. It was very properly called a community garden.

Then the rain dancers arrived. And most of the people who had been toiling joined the rain dancers. We were to have rain aplenty for four years if we rain danced just right, rain we could rely on and believe in. And the digging could finally cease.

Well, most of our energy went into the rain dance, and it produced the most stupendous rain dance any of us had ever seen. And it rained. It rained no more than normal, but people squinted to see signs of hope that the rain dance had succeeded and the sky had changed. And as they gradually began to accept that the dance hadn’t changed anything at all, they became despondent.

And I would ask them “Did you really believe a rain dance would work?” And they would say “No, of course not.” And I would ask why, then, everybody had become discouraged all at once, unlike any time in the past.

Our work had slowed, but only because people had chosen to focus elsewhere. Our knowledge of how to best dig the necessary ditches was continuing to improve. There were ever more of us available to do the digging if only we would do it.

And they said “Yes, but why should we expect digging ditches to work, when the rain dance didn’t?”