Magical Thinking and Hard Work—Fable Offers Simple Solution For Getting Unstuck

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What to do to get out of this mess the world is in? Or really, get anything we want in life?

Shelves are filled with self-help books on this topic. The advice runs the gamut from magical thinking to hard work. From: Imagine a possibility with adequate fervor and detail and you will make it happen. To: Hard work and persistence will pay off in the end.

The impetuous driver of a wheat wagon watches his cart get stuck in the mud. The poor man is far from any human help. This is in the countryside; near a certain canton of lower Brittany called Quimper-Corentin. We know enough to know that Destiny sends people there when He wants to enrage them. God save us from the voyage.

To return to our cart driver stuck in the mud, in these godforsaken parts; here he is detesting his situation, swearing a blue streak, cursing in his extreme fury, first against potholes, then against his horses, against his cart, against himself last.

Finally he invokes the god whose works are celebrated the world over.

Hercules, he asks the god, help me. If your back can carry the big blue ball, your arm could get me out of here.

His prayer done, the driver hears a voice in the sky, which speaks to him this way: Hercules likes it when you make an effort. Then he helps people. Look for the source of the blockage that’s trapped you. Dig out the pathetic mortar that surrounds each wheel, the cursed mud that’s buried them up to the chassis. Take your spade and tear away that rock that’s sinking you. Now break up the wheel ruts. Have you done it?

Yes, says the man.

Okay, now I’ll help you, says the voice. Take up your whip.

I’ve got it … What’s this? My cart is moving like a dream. Praise be, Hercules!

The voice says: You see how easily your horses got out of that tight spot. Help yourself and the heavens will help you.

Here in one short story, Jean de La Fontaine marries both ends of the self-help spectrum with a double-barreled appeal to the gods and elbow grease.

Indeed. With one clarification—we need to have a cart to pull out of the mud to start with. By which I mean universal health care and a universal basic income. Now those are things worth appealing to Hercules about.

In the same way, we have needed the more successful women to come out on record about the sexual harassment they suffered to embolden those less comfortable in their career positioning; it’s up to those of us with a cart to pull, to start digging out the mortar on the gross inequalities of our current society.

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