Sunday, 31 January 2016

Three Wise Men - A Parable

Once upon a time, three wise men were walking along the top of a long, high cliff.  Being men, they didn't talk much but rather spent their days belching and scratching various parts of their anatomies.  One day, however, the least cynical and skeptical of them – Trevor – cried out, pointed out over the ocean and said "I saw something, a vision of a distant land, a wonderful land, one in which we could experience eternal bliss, if only we could reach it!"

They stopped and they stared in that direction, but try as they might, none of them saw any distant land although Trevor did point at the occasional cloud, saying his paradise looked a bit like that but much, much better.

"Hm," said one of the other two wise men, Anthony, "It seems to me that you might be mistaken about what you saw, Trevor, but it is indeed possible that there is something of interest in that direction.  The key question is how best to reach it.

"We are three men, wise in our ways, but totally impractical and weak of body, so we can neither build a boat nor swim to any possible distant shore.  We know that we stand upon this cliff, that waves crash upon the rock below, that across the waters there may or may not be another land, fair and wonderful as our friend here claims.  What say you?"

The third wise man, Denis, spoke.  "I did not personally see this land that Trevor saw, but I am convinced that it exists.  Why should he claim to see that which he did not?  And has it ever happened that a man was misled by his perceptions?  Do we not always see clearly and true?  I choose to retrace our path, to reject our progress so far and to seek out a way across the waters in our distant past."

Then Trevor spoke.  "No, that is not the way, I shall build a bridge here, right here.  We are all here and that can be no coincidence.  It must assuredly be that the path to the distant land can be built from here, using only the materials available to us now and with no more than the wisdom we have gleaned in our travels."

Trevor quickly collected some rocks, piled them upon one another and declared that his bridge was now all but complete.  "See, my friends, this bridge is clear evidence that the distant, wonderful land exists exactly as I described."

"Hm," said Anthony, "I find your poorly constructed bridge to be totally unconvincing, Trevor.  And Denis, I doubt that we passed a way across the ocean in our past wandering and yet failed to notice it.  Perhaps it is true that we overlooked such a thing, but if so, this is merely evidence that we are apt to be misled by our perceptions and that Trevor might well be wrong about what he claims to have seen.

"No, my friends.  I feel quite sure that there may be something of at least prosaic interest across this ocean of ignorance before us, some truth to be revealed and furthermore I am sure that, if we have glimpsed any aspect of that truth, it is only because we have come so far.  I shall continue forward, seeking a land bridge – a natural bridge – in order to understand the reality of what lies beyond this ocean, be it the wondrous land of Trevor's febrile imagination or something far more mundane yet infinitely more wonderful, by stint of being true."

And so, after centuries of struggle, Anthony broke free from the attempts of Trevor and Denis to either subdue or slay him for his lack of faith in the distant, wondrous land and he continued along the cliff.  Occasionally he would turn, belch, scratch himself and glimpse some new aspect of what lay beyond ocean.  Sometimes, the path along the cliff would bring him closer to resolving the mystery and, at other times, any perceived proximity was entirely illusory.  But he was slowly making progress.

In the meantime, Trevor sat on his bridge and Denis retreated steadily into the past.  Both looked out across the ocean from time to time.  And belched.  And scratched.  Because, despite their wildly different paths, they too were men.

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