Saturday, October 8, 2011
A Tale of Ten Hermits
Ten hermits lived in Hermit’s Hollow. Six were Norwegian; the original immigrants to the hollow. Three were Finns; later immigrants, tolerated but grudgingly, due to their unusual affinity to liberal ideas. One was a Swede who stumbled into the hollow unbidden but, nonetheless, was allowed to stay.
They loved their secluded home, surrounded on all sides by high bluffs that protected their privacy. Centuries before, an earthquake had dammed up the stream that flowed into the Hollow, creating a large lake just beyond the northern bluff. The lake’s outlet released enough of its water to supply the Hollow, making it fertile and green. A wonderful place to live.
The hermits were not of one mind but they had worked out a system of “government” that suited the majority of them. They elected a leader every four years. Additionally they had an ad hoc “parliament” that decided issues based on majority vote. Well, almost. No issue could come before them unless six members of the “parliament’ agreed. So, on any issue of major importance they needed the agreement of at least six of their members. The Norwegians generally stuck together, meaning that the Finns seldom won; the Swede, never.
Norwegians nearly always won the elections. Rarely, due to some division among the Norwegians, a Finn would be elected leader, but his liberal tendencies were kept well in check by the “six vote rule.” The loyalty of the Swede was considered doubtful; it was often noted that he was an "alien." He was allowed to vote in the “parliament,” but no one imagined a Swede could be the leader.
However, one year, just as they were preparing to elect their leader for the next four years, an emergency arose that changed everything. The Swede noticed that the flow of water in the stream was increasing and went to the top of the bluff to look for the reason. What he discovered was alarming. The natural dam that the earthquake had created, centuries before, was sagging badly, allowing more and more water to flow out into the Hollow. A sudden storm with heavy rain could cause a break in the dam and send all the water from the lake coursing into Hermit’s Hollow.
Of course the problem of what to do about the dam became an issue in the election of a new leader. The Swede shocked everyone by saying that, since he discovered the problem with the dam, he should be elected and given a chance to fix it. He said he had a plan. Under normal circumstances, he would have had no chance to be elected, but because the Norwegians were so divided over what to do about the impending flood, some of them voted – mostly out of spite – for the Swede and, to the surprise of everyone, he was elected.
At first, everyone agreed that they should forget their grudges over the contentious election long enough to do something about the dam. For a month or two they worked together to implement the Swede’s idea to shore up the sagging dam and save the Hollow from a flood. Some progress was made, but before they could complete the reinforcements and assure the future of their idyllic little Hollow, their natural tendency to bicker reasserted itself. Besides, the Norwegians were becoming increasingly agitated at the idea of being led by a Swede, of all things. All six of the Norwegians declared that the emergency with the dam was “made up” by the Swede just to get him elected. They declared they would do no more work on the dam; their goal was to make sure that Swede never got elected again.
The poor Swede was sure that his plan would save the Hollow but he needed help from the Norwegians to get the job done. Some of the Finns were persuaded, in their heart of hearts, that the Swede’s concerns were real, albeit his solution was too conservative for their tastes. And they faced a lot of pressure from the Norwegians who threatened that, if they went along with the Swede in any way, they’d never, ever be elected leader.
As the hermits bickered, the flow of the stream increased. On certain days the Finns, fearing that the Swede’s assessment of the damage might be accurate, went quietly up the bluff to help their leader, who faithfully, day after day, worked away to reinforce the dam and save the Hollow. But in a day or two Norwegians would discover what they were up to and renew the threats to ban them forever from leadership.
So, on most days, the Swede worked alone. Often, at the end of a day of hard work, discouraged because all his efforts had not really made the Hollow secure, he would beg his fellow hermits, for the sake of their homeland, to join him in reinforcing the dam. The Norwegians shrugged and reminded him that he would need at least six votes to get his plan enacted. And they saw to it that the six votes were never there. And besides, they said, the Swede had been trying his plan, which they derisively called “Swede’s Folly,” for months and it obviously wasn’t doing any good. Why should they invest the efforts of the whole community when the facts showed that his plan was a failure?
The fate of the hollow is uncertain, as is the political future of the Swede. It seems most likely that he’ll lose his leadership position. Although none of the Norwegians have a plan to repair the dam they believe that the solution is to stop the water from coming into the lake and so they’ve instituted days of prayer, beseeching the heavens for a seven-year drought. Only time will tell if the gods will honor their prayers and save their Hollow. The Finns, fearing to be associated too closely with “Swede’s Folly,” and thus ruin their chances to ever be “leader,” have proposed a more radical solution. They want to blow the dam to smithereens so the water can be shared, rather than hoarding it worthlessly in a giant lake.
It is most likely that the Swede will go on working, as long as he is “leader,” to save his obnoxious fellow hermits. Eventually the dam will give way and wash them all into the next hollow downstream, knocking their heads against every rock along the way. That will have the happy dual benefit of proving “Swede’s Folly” a failure, and implementing the Finn’s wish to share the water with those further downstream.