Aesop’s Fable – The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey
A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”
Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your hulking son?”
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.
“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them.
This fable was recently brought to my attention and I find it so fascinating and profound in the sense that we are all influenced by other people. I would go even further and say that our worldviews are very heavily influenced by the interpretation of the experiences we have with other people.
I wonder if I had been born alone on an island and managed to survive to the age of 33, being completely alone the entire time, what would my view of the world look like? Would my thoughts have even evolved to the point of trying to find meaning in my life? Or would the meaning in my life simply be to find food and survive another day, living more of a “one day at a time” motto? Or… would I have had some sort of profound mystical experience leading me to be spiritual and worship a Higher Power (as AA so diplomatically rephrases the term “God”)?
This is of course just a hypothetical situation that I’ll never have the answer to, but I can’t help but wonder, “Do any of us actually think purely?” I don’t believe our thoughts are nearly as controlled by ourselves as we would like to think they are. We are all a result of our life’s experiences and we shape our worldview uncontrollably off of these experiences. Our worldview is a result of our interpretation of life. But who’s to say that anyone has the correct interpretation?
If I say, “I don’t know” and go to a Pentecostal Christian they’ll say, “Oh but I know, you must go this way.” Then I could go to a Cessationist Baptist and they would say, “No, no. That’s not the correct way. You must go this way.” Then I could cross paths with a Hindu and they could tell me, “There are multiple ways, but all ways lead to Brahman.” Then I could meet a Buddhist and he might tell me, “Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. In trying to find a way, you have lost your way.” Then finally I might cross paths with an atheist who could say, “This is all there is and you’re wasting your time looking for a way.”
And then at the end of the day I am left sitting, scratching my head, just like the boy and his father in the fable. The problem though is that the boy and the father rather than trying to figure out for themselves what they really think, they have already been influenced by the opinion of others and are now trying to think of how they can please them all, instead of actually just going with their own intuition. They have lost their intuition and been left in a state of confusion, which ultimately leads them to make the most foolish decision yet—to carry the donkey!
The fable ends with them losing the donkey entirely and being laughed and scoffed at by all those around them—the exact thing they were probably trying to avoid by listening to the opinion of others in the first place. So, what was the right choice for the boy and the father to make? Where did they first go wrong?