I grew up on proverbs and fables. Thanks to Babacim, my sisters' and my world was filled with tales and names such as Nasreddin Hodja, La Fontaine and Aesop from a very young age. The morals we extricated from those sometimes amusing, sometimes cautionary tales comprised a strong part of our life lessons. Babacim taught us when we didn't even realize we were learning – and that kind of learning stays with the learner a lifetime.
One of the stories I remember distinctly and know that has shaped my outlook on how I deal with people is the one of the North Wind and the Sun. This is how it goes:
One day the Wind and the Sun were debating which one was stronger. Then they saw a traveler walking down the road. The Sun said: "I know how we can decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his coat shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin."
So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow upon the traveler as hard as it could. He huffed and howled and filled his cheeks with air that he forced in gusts upon the unsuspecting man. Yet the harder he blew, the more tightly did the traveler wrap his coat round him, pulled up his collar around his face and shielded his face with an elbow. Exhausted and unsuccessful, the Wind had to give up in despair.
Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler. The clouds took a break and birds began to sing. Soon the traveler found it too hot to walk with his coat and took it off.
After listening to him, Babacim would ask us what we got out of the story, what it meant to each of us – and we would discuss our thoughts. My sisters and I learned from this, that we could attain our purpose with kind persuasion than tantrums or bullying.
I followed this Socratic approach in my teaching career as well, while looked further into the origins of a fable I had first heard in Turkish as a child. While I was searching information on Aesop and LaFontaine, I learned a lot more in the process. Just like the far reaching implications of its moral, the simple story of the North Wind and the Sun has touched the imaginations of many through history.
The earliest version of the fable is traced to Avianus, a 5th century pagan and Latin writer of fable, who named it De Vento et Sole – Of the Wind and the Sun. While these Victorian versions offer 'Persuasion is better than force' as the moral, Aphra Behn, in the Barlow edition of 1667, pursues the Stoic lesson advocating moderation in everything:
'In every passion moderation choose,
For all extremes do bad effects produce,'
The interpretation of this short fable did not stop there. 18th century, German philosopher, poet, theologian, and literary critic Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) kept the same title when he penned the fable into a German poem in which he offers his theological conclusion:
'Superior force leaves us cold,
Warm Christian love dispels that'
A late Nineteenth century psychological interpretation in the Walter Crane limerick edition of 1887 offered a psychological interpretation, 'True strength is not bluster'.
I found as a grown woman that although many of these examples draw a moral lesson, it was La Fontaine's hint at the political application that is also present also in Avianus' conclusion: 'They cannot win who start with threats'.
There is evidence that this reading has had an unequivocal influence on the diplomacy of modern history – namely the South Korea's Sunshine Policy. The Sunshine Policy was the foreign policy of South Korea towards North Korea until 2008, when Lee Myung-bak was elected to presidency. It resulted in greater political contact between the two nations since its articulation in 1998 by Kim Dae Jung, South Korean President, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 as a result of this policy.
I believe fables are pearls of wisdom we need to remember and follow more often in our daily lives. Underneath their simple characters and brief story lines lie a wealth of nuance which would make much better nations and citizens of us.
Old Boreas and the sun, one day
Espied a traveller on his way,
Whose dress did happily provide
Against whatever might betide.
The time was autumn, when, indeed,
All prudent travellers take heed.
The rains that then the sunshine dash,
And Iris with her splendid sash,
Warn one who does not like to soak
To wear abroad a good thick cloak.
Our man was therefore well bedight
With double mantle, strong and tight.
"This fellow," said the wind, "has meant
To guard from every ill event;
But little does he wot that I
Can blow him such a blast
That, not a button fast,
His cloak shall cleave the sky.
Come, here's a pleasant game, Sir Sun!
Said Phœbus, "Done!
We'll bet between us here
Which first will take the gear
From off this cavalier.
Begin, and shut away
The brightness of my ray."
"Enough." Our blower, on the bet,
Swell'd out his pursy form
With all the stuff for storm --
The thunder, hail, and drenching wet,
And all the fury he could muster;
Then, with a very demon's bluster,
He whistled, whirl'd, and splash'd,
And down the torrents dash'd,
Full many a roof uptearing
He never did before,
Full many a vessel bearing
To wreck upon the shore, --
And all to doff a single cloak.
But vain the furious stroke;
The traveller was stout,
And kept the tempest out,
Defied the hurricane,
Defied the pelting rain ;
And as the fiercer roar'd the blast,
His cloak the tighter held he fast.
The sun broke out, to win the bet;
He caused the clouds to disappear,
Befresh'd and warm'd the cavalier,
And through his mantle made him sweat,
Till off it came, of course,
In less than half an hour;
And yet the sun saved half his power. --
So much doth mildness more than force.
Source: Jean de La Fontaine, The Fables of La Fontaine, translated from the French by Elizur Wright (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888), book 6, fable 3, pp. 123-24.
Füsun Atalay ~ Copyright © Will of my Own - 2011