The Seduction of Big Ideas

A couple of weeks back in her post “Almost Half Way“, my blog partner Margaret wrote about taking long trips.  She tagged it as a Thought Starter and ever respectful of my colleague, I’ve been thinking about it.

Her item was a reminder that no matter where we think we are going,we must never forget where we are.  It called to mind a joke I heard from a Polish economist nearly 25 years ago.  It concerns a farmer so I expect every agricultural society has its own version.

A farmer has a donkey and in an effort to get the most out of his small farm, he decides to feed it as cheaply as possible. The simplest method is to feed it less so on the first day, he gives it one bale of hay and the donkey finishes it.

Reminding us to keep our eye on the obvious
Photo: Victoria Reay via Flickr Creative Commons

On the second day, he gives the animal half a bale of hay.  The donkey finishes that and seems perfectly content.  So on the next day, he feeds it a quarter of a bale of hay.

This seems to go well and the next day in town, he boasts to a friend about his simple yet revolutionary money saving device.

A few weeks later, he runs into his friend again and the friend asks how the project is going.

“Almost perfect,” the farmer says. “I kept cutting the amount of hay in half and I kept getting the same work out of the donkey.  But then I hit a set back.”

“What was that,” the friend asks?

“Well, just when I got the donkey down to eating nothing, he died,” the farmer says.

I see a lot of those farmers all around us.  People running operations, wanting to do great things, and filled with big ideas.  By definition, big ideas lay claim to our thoughts; they absorb us; they are exciting.

And they can have no connection to the here and now.  They can starve us of what we truly need and yet be so mesmerizing,  we press on.

What are the examples of those big ideas in your world? Have you ever been seduced by one yourself and if so, what helped you shake loose of it? What big idea do you wish others would give up?  And if a big idea is set aside, what fills its place?  What makes big ideas so darn seductive?



4 thoughts on “The Seduction of Big Ideas

  1. This is not an answer to your question. It is a reflection on a moment of awareness raised by your piece.
    As I read your story about the farmer, I found myself a bit incensed at the use, once again, of a polish person in an unfavorable light to make a point. “Was Jon really that insensitive,” I thought, as I almost simultaneously recalled that he had related the story to almost any agrarian society. So, no, he was trying to make the story’s application much broader. “Still,” I thought, “why associate the farmer with any one nationality at all.” “The fact that the farmer is Polish is not relevant.”
    I don’t know Jon well at all, but certainly the telling of a Polish joke did not jive at all with my knowledge of Jon’s reputation.
    So, I went back and reread the piece. The farmer isn’t Polish! The original joke teller was a Polish economist. My actively sensitive mind had made a leap, filled in a gap or had just plain perceived what it wanted to without my being aware of it, at least at the moment. I was the one who had committed an “injustice,” by not being more aware.
    I am glad that I paused and took stock. I have learned a good lesson … again.
    Jon, I apologize for even thinking you were being insensitive.
    Thank you for your contribution to this special place.

    • Well Jeff, I tend to think you judge yourself too harshly but I’m glad I ultimately did not come off like a fool. I do think we are surrounded by triggers, symbols and markers of inner beliefs. It’s tempting to read too much into them. Your story is a good reminder in its own right. Thanks. Jon

  2. I also don’t have a question about your post. My question is this: What Is With That Donkey? Am I just completely ignorant about what donkeys are “supposed to” look like, or don’t their ears usually point skyward? And if those aren’t misplaced ears, then what is laying across this poor donkey’s back? Just wondering (for approx. the past 5 minutes while I stared at this photo)… I even found myself comsidering that maybe it could be a newfangled version of those cool, colorful prints that you have to stare at for a while and squint your eyes before the answer reveals itself to you (if at all), and you squeal with delight when you finally GET IT — when your hard work pays off and you see what was right there in front of you the whole time! Well, the donkey and I have NOT had that eureka moment. So my conclusions are this: 1.) Poor, strange-looking donkey; and 2.) Maybe I have too much time on my hands this morning… But please, tell me! What’s up with this donkey? :-s

    • You’ll have to ask the woman who took the photo. From what I could see, the picture was taken in Morocco and I assume it was a pack animal. I don’t know whether it is a plus or a minus that you spent a few minutes pondering the donkey. Let’s be positive and say it was a form of meditation — gratis as it were. I liked the photo but had no idea it would be so mysterious.


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