Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Clever Little Fisherman: Another Favorite Folk Tale

A “favorite of mine,” I mean, because, after all, blogs are all about the blogger.

I first heard this one told at some kind of meeting, or seminar, by a professional story-teller. I don’t recall just where, or when. It’s a good one. It’s got a few strong messages in it, and it delivers a real kick at the end. I hope that somebody out there enjoys it.

The Clever Little Fisherman

Once upon a time, there was a very nice fishing village that was close to some good places to catch fish. Many fine fishermen lived there, and most of them were big men with strong hands and hired men to help them with their large boats. There was, however, one fisherman who was a bit on the small side. He had his own boat, and he worked it alone, and the boat was a bit on the small side, too. The little fisherman was clever, though, and he did a good job of catching fish. The other fishermen said that he was just lucky, but really, he caught a lot of fish because he was full of good ideas. He made a living, and he was happy.

One day, the little fisherman sailed out and went to the best place to catch fish. There were already a few other boats there, and after a while he noticed that no one was catching any fish. He decided to try another popular fishing spot, and he set off in that direction. There, he was the only fishing boat that he could see, but still there were no fish. He worked at it for a while, but his net was always empty.   By now, the day was half gone, and he had not caught any fish at all. It happened sometimes. None of them knew everything that there was to know about fish. Sometimes there were just no fish where you expected them to be.

The little fisherman pulled in his nets and gear, and he sat down to think about some way to save the day’s work. He remembered a place where he had caught some fish one time, a place where he had never seen another fishing boat. “It’s worth a chance,” he said, “maybe I’ll get lucky.” At the new place, sure enough, there were no other boats. The little fisherman stood in his boat with his hands on his hips, and he looked at the sea, and the sun, and the birds, and he decided on a good spot to cast his net.  

He cast his net as far as he could, and he slowly pulled it back towards his boat. It felt very light, and sure enough, when he got it back to the boat, it was empty. Undiscouraged, he cast his net again. As he was pulling it back, he could feel some weight in the net. Okay! He thought, that’s better! At last I’ve caught a fish! But when the net reached the ship, all that he could find in it was one old boot. He said a silent prayer, and threw the boot back into the sea. He was still determined to catch fish, so he cast his net again in the same spot. This time, he could again feel something in the net. “Probably the other boot,” he said. But no, it wasn’t a boot. It wasn’t a fish, either.

It was a lamp. It was an oil lamp of a very old design. It was very fancy, and he began to wonder if it was worth some money, maybe a lot of money. Maybe it wasn’t a wasted day at all! The other fishermen would laugh at that. None of them caught any fish today, or almost no fish, but the clever little fisherman pulled in a lamp that was worth more than fish! He was trying to figure out what the lamp was made of, and he wanted to see more of the design on the sides, so he took the sleeve of his shirt and rubbed the side of the lamp as hard as he could. Something happened immediately.

The stopper in the neck fell out, and the lamp began to vibrate, and it made a small humming sound, and from the neck there came a growing cloud of gray smoke that looked very heavy. And then, in the smoke, there appeared a genie, dressed in clothes of a style that no one had seen anywhere in the world for a very, very long time. The genie was very big.

“At last!” said the genie, who seemed to be stretching a little bit, rolling his shoulders gently, with his eyes closed. Then the genie opened his eyes and looked straight at the fisherman. He seemed neither happy, nor sad. The genie was not at all excited, and he certainly was not afraid. The fisherman was trying to decide if the genie was angry, but while he was wondering what to do, the genie spoke to him.

“When I was first imprisoned in this lamp, I thought little of it. I was confident that I could use my strength and my powers to escape. But alas, I could not.

“At first, I believed that someone would find the lamp and free me before too long, and I began to wait as comfortably as I could. I thought, when someone frees me from this lamp, I will be grateful. I will grant them three wishes and send them on their way. But no one came.

“As time when on, and after hundreds of years had passed, I reasoned that someday, and that day must come, someone will find the lamp and free me from this prison. I had grown beyond emotions such as gratitude by that time, so I decided that the wishes were out of the question. I would simply allow them to go on their way.

“But no one came, and the years became thousands, and in that time my heart became the hardest stone in the world. My fury became the coldest anger in the world. I have lived with only one thought. I cannot escape, but I cannot die, so in the fullness of time it only stands to reason that someone will eventually free me from this lamp. When that happens, I will seize that person in my hands and tear them apart with my teeth.”

The little fisherman, as you can imagine, had been listening to this story with growing concern. He knew that he needed a clever idea, and he needed it quickly. He thought of something that was worth giving a try.

“Oh, mighty genie! You are so powerful! I’ll bet there’s almost nothing that you can’t do!”

“I am mightier than you know! There’s nothing that I cannot do!”

“Well, honestly, you are so big, and you look so solid, I can’t imagine that you are strong enough to fit yourself into such a small lamp.”

“That’s nothing!” said the genie. “Here, I’ll show you.”

At that, the genie turned back into the cloud of heavy smoke and disappeared back into the neck of the lamp. The clever little fisherman snatched up the stopper and put it in place as firmly as he could.

The fisherman placed the lamp in the bottom of the boat, being careful to hold in with his fingertips. No rubbing! Please! He sat down and looked around at the sky and the sea, to make sure that it was once again the calm, quiet day that he remembered from a few minutes previously. All appeared well, and to make sure that it stayed that way, the fisherman picked up the lamp, again with his fingertips, and carefully dropped it over the side of the boat.

Sailing back to the village, the fisherman knew that he would never again go fishing in that spot. He wondered if he should warn the other men about that spot, but he quickly realized that most of the men wouldn’t believe him, and some of the more foolish men might want to go and start looking for the lamp. Better to remain silent about the entire thing. “How terrible!” he thought. “The cleverest thing that I’ve ever done, by far, and I can’t even tell my friends!”

The Moral

There are a few. First of all, don’t give up when things are not coming easy. The fisherman looks for better spots to fish, and he casts his net repeatedly to try to catch fish.

I suppose there’s a moral in the genie’s behavior. If the genie had been more reasonable, and treated the fisherman with magnanimity, the genie could have returned to his perfect life as the powerful being that he was, and as free as a bird, too. By being meanspirited and temperamental, he forced the fisherman’s hand and ended up back in the lamp.

I think that there’s another lesson here. I don’t know how Bruno Bettleheim would handle this one, but I see it this way. Don’t piss people off in the first place, and if you do, cease and desist as soon as possible, and apologize if that will help. If you leave people in a state of anger for too long, it only hardens their hearts. This unfortunate genie was prepared to be reasonable for quite a long time. The story does not provide any of the details surrounding his incarceration, so we don’t know much about his transgressions or his culpability. We are told in detail, however, how his anger grew over time, beginning as hardly any anger at all and finally becoming a murderous rage at the world. If you will think about it for only a moment, you will probably think of examples of this phenomenon that you have witnessed in your own lives.

I know that I can easily find examples from my own life and the lives of others that have been known to me. And you, at least you must remember this kind of thing happening in soap-operas. The soap-opera is the longest form of drama known to man, hundreds of hours per year and going on for decades. There’s plenty of time for the hardening of hearts. It happens in real life too, though, and probably it happens to all of us, whichever side of the thing we are on.

Problems and disagreements begin, and for the first year, let’s say, all it would take to solve them would be for somebody to say, come on, I’m sorry, this is silly, we’re friends for Christ’s sake! All is forgiven. Add another year, and it all gets more difficult. Add a few years, and someone is going to have to come up with a more abject apology to straighten out the mess. Go five years or more, it’s a done deal. One party’s heart will have become “the hardest stone in the world” by that time.

Take the lesson, dear readers. If you have a disagreement with a loved one, get over it and apologize, whether you think that you were right or wrong or whatever. Just do it. It’s a loved one. Eat a little crow, you’ll get over it. If you have a problem with anyone at all, friend, neighbor, relative, co-worker, anyone, you’ll feel better if you can make it all go away while such a thing is possible. At some point it becomes a done-deal and you’re stuck with the result forever.

In the words of the immortal Rodney King: why can’t we all just get along?

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