The Wind or the Sun?

Photo: akakumo

In 2004, I learned our society was in serious trouble. I’d wandered onto Life After the Oil Crash, which aptly opens with the line:

Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon.

The site chronicles peak oil and the ensuing economic downfall that will have us all in mud huts, throwing rocks at each other before we know it.

My first reaction was disbelief. I was in shock…how could the world I know suddenly end? It wasn’t possible. As I read deeper into the site, the possibility became less far-fetched. My second reaction was despair, with a healthy dose of denial. I wanted to keep my lifestyle. I didn’t want to change.

Eventually, I became angry. How could humanity be so stupid? Which is another way of saying, why am I the only intelligent being on this planet?

I wanted other people to know how stupid they were. I wanted to shake people on the streets, send them damning articles of their gross consumption, and try to wake these sheep up from their slumber.

But a funny thing happened.

A few people listened. Others reacted angrily, and told me in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have to change. They were entitled to their lifestyles and no one could say differently. Most of all, people ignored me and went on with their lives.

It wasn’t long before my anger turned into depression. We’re all doomed. I figured I might as well give up and grab a front row seat for the apocalypse.

And so I waited…and waited….and waited some more.

Outside my own personal prison, the sun kept shining. Dogs kept playing in the park. Friends enjoyed moments together. The ocean kept on lapping at the shore. Basically, life went on.

It was around that time I remembered a book from my childhood. I can’t recall the actual title, but the story should be familiar to most people.

Here’s a good retelling of the parable:

A story is told about the North Wind and the Sun. It seems that each claimed to have the greater power over mortals and a dispute arose.

“I am much stronger, ” said the North Wind. “I blow and blow and can even cause great oak trees to tumble to the ground. Surely I have a greater power over man.”

“Indeed not,” said the Sun, “for without my warmth, a man would surely die! Consider the oak tree. Without me it would not grow to be so tall.”

And so it was that the two decided to try their powers upon an unknowing traveler, deciding to see which of them could soonest strip him of his cloak. The North wind furiously blew down upon the man, and caught up his cloak, believing he could wrestle it from him in one single gust.

But is was soon apparent that the harder he blew, the more closely the man wrapped himself up in the garment.

The Sun then said, “I shall try my hand at this venture.” So he looked down upon the traveler and beamed his light ever so gently upon him.

Eventually, the man unclasped his coat as it draped over his shoulders. The sun then shone down with his full strength, and before he had gone much further down the road, the man took off his cloak so he could complete his journey.

You can interpret this is many different ways, but for me, the message was clear:

If you want to change the world, inspiration is more effective than force.

I decided it was time to leave my angry mental prison; which had really become an extension of my ego. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but judging others gave me a perverse sense of identity.

Instead, I did some further pondering and came to the conclusion that you can’t change others directly. You can only deal with yourself. You can only deal with your own impact on the world, and work to your essence, regardless of what others think.

As the Buddha said, you must “live in you heart.” And that’s the most effective inspiration there is.


  1. Well said brother. I haven’t hear that parable in a long time, gives me something to chew on…

  2. So, so true. You and I were probably running around in the same angry mental prison around the same time, but somehow failed to bump into each other. Mine was wrapped up in being vegan, then other forms of nutrition, etc., etc. Luckily for everyone around me, I self-imploded.

    I think it’s not only about inspiring others, but also about unhinging that grasp. Probably one of the most important lessons each of us can learn.

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