Storytellers the world over have been telling stories all through the Covid 19 pandemic. The challenge of course, is always the same: which story is the right medicine at any given moment? At this time, as lockdown is being eased in many countries, here’s a short story from Taiwan:
There was once a village nestled at the foot of a mountain. One day, a stranger, an old man, wheeled his cart into the village square and started calling, “One dumpling for five yuan, two dumplings for ten yuan, three dumplings for free!” The people looked at each other – had they heard right? But the old man kept calling out his wares until at last, one villager stepped up cautiously.
“Is it definitely three dumplings for free old man?”
“Certainly,” he smiled and served up three steaming dumplings for free.
Well, after that, a queue formed and in no time at all, all the dumplings were gone and the old man pushed his cart away again. This went on for day after day, week after week, month after month until one day, a young woman asked for one dumpling. The people behind her in the queue starting shouting, “No, no, why pay five yuan for one? Are you crazy? Get three and you pay nothing!”
The woman turned to them and said, “But I only actually need one and besides, it’s not right – this old man has been feeding us for free for months and he needs some money to live on too. I’m happy to pay him five yuan.”
The old man gave her one steaming dumpling and smiled, “you are the one have been waiting for.”
As we return to “normal” and our economies find themselves reeling in the aftermath, governments and companies around the world will be encouraging us to buy more, more, more. After all, this is what a material consumer society is built on and otherwise, how will we bring back prosperity? But this story offers us an opportunity, for it doesn’t end there…
The old man smiled, “you are the one I have been waiting for. Come with me and I will teach you everything I know.” To the others he said, “I am the spirit of the mountain and every day you people have been eating me. What you have taken can never be replaced.”
With that he turned and walked away, the young woman following. It was only then that the villagers noticed the huge bite missing from the top of their mountain. If you go to Taiwan, it is said that you can still see the mountain to this day.
As we return to “normal”, let’s think carefully about exactly how many dumplings we do actually need and what is a fair price to pay, both for others and the natural environment. Let’s look at the world through one dumpling eyes.