There was once a young Shepherd Boy who tended his sheep at the foot of a mountain near a dark forest. It was rather lonely for him all day, so he thought upon a plan by which he could get a little company and some excitement. He rushed down towards the village calling out “Wolf, Wolf,” and the villagers came out to meet him, and some of them stopped with him for a considerable time. This pleased the boy so much that a few days afterwards he tried the same trick, and again the villagers came to his help. But shortly after this a Wolf actually did come out from the forest, and began to worry the sheep, and the boy of course cried out “Wolf, Wolf,” still louder than before. But this time the villagers, who had been fooled twice before, thought the boy was again deceiving them, and nobody stirred to come to his help. So the Wolf made a good meal off the boy`s flock, and when the boy complained, the wise man of the village said:
“A Liar Will Not Be Believed, Even When He Speaks The Truth.”
There are also two more cliche parables that come to mind when thinking about this fable: the first being that of the final straw the breaks the camel’s back; the second, that of leading horses to water, but not forcing them to drink.
Peace Corps often puts volunteers in some fairly adverse circumstances when compared to what they might be facing at home. This is a given. My adverse circumstances are best summed up using these three parables, but what is great about parables is that though they are formulaic, their variables are without fixed quantity. This is how they are able to survive the test of time and manifest themselves in many ways, from Horus to the Bible, Aesop to Obama, generation to generation. Each group is able to take the formula, the framework, and bend it to their own circumstance, input their own values for the variables. Because the parables don’t tell us the degree of correctness, we are able to generate our own.
This is a critical learning experience that Peace Corps puts at the forefront. On a daily basis you will be tested, your principles, your formulas, the framework upon which you have built your life, will be strained. And what you will learn is that it is ok to draw lines. It is ok to fix your limits, or pretend they aren’t there and eventually learn them, for humans, though flexible, are far from an infinitely flexible goo.
On the flip side, it has also become very apparent that others will choose to live by their own frameworks. Who knew! In many circumstances, people will approach you with a desired outcome, but when you share with them the means to achieve their desires, they are unable or unwilling to make it work. This leads to frustration. But don’t forget, they may have their own variables, hidden from public view, that might also make such a successful formula otherwise impossible for their specific life. Perhaps they cannot commit the necessary time due to familial obligations. Perhaps they cannot commit the monetary expense due to a subsistence-only budget. As a human, we can only know what others tell us, but what we are told might not always be the complete picture.
Of course, this is where frustrations arise. This is where ingenuity and frustration come into play. Ingenuity is the ability to adjust the weights of certain parts of the formula for success to be more in your favor. Maybe you are unable to make the specified time commitment, but by tweaking other parts of the formula, you are able to lessen the importance of the time commitment, and now it fits your life. Success.
Frustration is when, as an observer of someone else’s life, you acknowledge that a portion of another person’s formula-ized ethic might not match your own. Perhaps they are weighting too heavily a negative component of their own life, or perhaps they are not adjusting a variable to a degree that it is no longer a hindrance, not applying enough ingenuity to the situation, even though from your own personal experience you know such actions would be beneficial. Frustration stinks.
Peace Corps leaves me with too much time to think. I have begun reducing life to math equations… scary. As we all know, math isn’t for everybody, so we have parables, cliches, analogies. But in the end they all convey the same thing: the summation of human experience thus far, with a bit of flex room, a bit of space for adaptation, because if we have learned anything as a species, it’s that if you don’t leave enough room for adaption in the face of change, you die out. Talk about a formula for success or failure. Eesh!
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