In earlier posts, in an effort to provide some guidance on how to avoid expressing our concerns in a form that can potentially make a bad situation far worse, I provided a description of 5 levels of maturity for providing negative criticism. In many situations, by simply attempting to create a communication that is consistent with the level 5 description, we end up dramatically improving our chance to make a valuable difference. But there are certain subtle situations that require special considerations.
Sometimes the actions you hope to change are intertwined with certain entrenched worldviews. In these types of situations, to expect to encourage people all at once to make what might seem to them to be some enormous change, might be way too much to expect. How better to deal with these situations? In today’s post, I’m going to present a parable that I hope you will find helpful when dealing with these types of situations.
This little parable is based on a story that appears in the bible about Abraham. I’ve taken some creative license in its telling, and based on this altered narrative, I’ve come up with a dramatically different literary interpretation of its meaning than the typical religious interpretation of the actual biblical story. For those who have a deep sense of religion, I don’t mean any disrespect. I do realize that by using a biblical story in this way I may grate upon tender associations, but I simply am unable at this point to derive any alternative that contains this story’s emotional impact. In no way am I attempting to claim that it has some sort of religious authority that some of you may feel for the actual biblical story.
With that said, I now present the story of “The Wisdom of Abraham.”
The Wisdom of Abraham
A few thousand years ago a man named Abraham lived in a village whose inhabitants followed the religion of Ba’al. The village was bound to the economy of the land that depended on the regularity and adequacy of the rains. Anxiety about the rainfall was a continuing concern of the inhabitants and this gave rise to rites to ensure the coming of the rains.
Many of the elders of the community remembered a drought that was so severe that over half the village died of starvation. After that terrible year, some of the Ba’al leadership prayed and reported that their god had spoken to them and commanded that to avoid another similar severe drought the people of the village must sacrifice a couple’s first born child. The people reluctantly obeyed, and from that point on there had never been another drought quite as bad.
Now, in this community, it came to pass that Abraham had a wife, Sara, who, after many, many frustrating years of trying, she, at long last, became pregnant. When the community members heard about this, they all gathered in the village square.
The leader of the community, Hareesh, took out a knife with a golden handle encrusted with sparkling jewels. “Abraham,” Hareesh cried out so all could hear, “after all of your difficulties in getting Sara pregnant you have finally succeeded. God will indeed appreciate your great sacrifice when your child is born. All in the village are so fortunate, for because of your great sacrifice we will surely have a wonderful rainy season and our crops will be bountiful. Let us all thank god.”
“Well, um,” Abraham began to stutter, “um, well I know that in the past it was our tradition to sacrifice our first born child, but, um…”
“Abraham!” cried Hareesh in a booming voice, “there will be no buts about this matter. You will follow the will of god!”
Abraham saw the look on the face of this leader, and he glanced quickly over the faces of the others in the village and it was plain that if he was to object any more he and his wife would be put to the fire, and so he held his tongue.
On the day that Sara gave birth, all again gathered in the village square. And there stood Hareesh with the golden handled, jewel-encrusted knife. “Abraham,” he cried out, “do you want me to do the deed, or do you wish to do the deed yourself?”
“Last night,” Abraham replied, “I prayed and prayed, and then, just as I heard the first cry of my new born son, god oh mighty spoke to me and he did command me to do as other village fathers have done before me. God commanded that I indeed must sacrifice my son. Because of all that Sara and I went through to have this son, god has ordered that this sacrifice must occur in a special holy place up in the mountain in the region known as Mariah. I’m to take my best ram with me for it is a two-day journey to the special holy place and he will help to carry my supplies. I will also take two of my most capable servants. Give me the sacrificial knife and I will follow god’s commandment.”
“Abraham,” cried Hareesh as he fingered the gold handled jewel encrusted knife,” you must do the deed just as god has commanded. But bring back the dead body of your son so we can give him the respected burial he well deserves.” And then Hareesh handed the knife over to Abraham.
And so, Abraham took his son, along with his ram, and two servants up to the mountain. A few days later he returned with his son very much alive. Following beside him was Abraham’s two servants carrying the ram, which was dead, and it had the sacrificial knife stuck in him.
As soon as Abraham had been spotted descending from the mountain, the people of the village began to gather.
“Abraham, your son is still alive!” boomed Hareesh. “What is the meaning of this?!”
“Well,” said Abraham, “I did as god had commanded. On the third day of my journey, I looked up and saw the holy place in the distance. I said to my servants, “Stay here while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then I will come back to you, having sacrificed my son, Isaac.”
“I placed my son on the holy site, and just as I reached back with the knife in my hand, the Lord called out to me from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’
“‘Here I am,’ I replied.
“And the lord said to me, ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you are my loyal servant, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. And I can see within you, Abraham, how hard it is to bring yourself to do this deed. I am a merciful god, and therefore, from now on no one in your village shall ever sacrifice their first born as a sacrifice for me. Instead, you must sacrifice one of your finest rams.”
“And so, I followed the lord’s commandment and, as you can plainly see, I killed the ram with the sacrificial knife.”
And as Abraham finished his story, his servants laid the dead lamb at the feet of the crowd standing before him. And suddenly a great cry rose up from one segment of the crowd, and Abraham saw that it was from all of the women who were currently pregnant. They were crying that the lord was merciful, and tears were running down their faces. They fell to their knees, yelling, Thank you oh merciful lord, thank you.” And the husbands, realizing they would not have to kill their first born, also began to cry out, “Thank you oh merciful lord, thank you!” And there followed quickly another wave of cries. This time it was from all of the young men and women who had recently married and knew that if this new change had not occurred, they too would have had to sacrifice their first born, and they were greatly pleased. And then, even the men who had sacrificed their own first born, seeing how thrilled their own young sons and daughters were at Abraham’s story, also began to thank god for being so merciful.
Now, Hareesh, and some of his followers, were somewhat skeptical of what Abraham had said, but seeing the great passionate joyful response from almost everyone in the crowd, he held his tongue. Later the leader said, “We will see how the rains come, and if there is a drought, we will know the truth.”
When the rainy season did come, there were at times some ups and downs. But, in the end, overall, there was great agreement that there had been an excellent harvest, and the people were pleased.
The following year, one day, Abraham, who had now become greatly respected in the village, announced to the people that while he was praying, the lord once again spoke to him, saying that he saw that many of the good people of the village who dutifully sacrificed their finest ram each year, were deeply grieved upon doing so. And therefore, the lord, being merciful, has now commanded me to tell you that no longer will we have to sacrifice a ram once a year, instead we must make a sacrifice by fasting once a year for a whole day, from sundown to the next sundown.
Now, most of the people liked this new change, but there were a growing number of villagers who felt that Abraham was beginning to take them too far away from the old ways. And this feeling grew. And in those days, people felt that the only way to settle this was to set up a war council meeting, plan a date to violently fight it out, and those who survived got their way.
But, on the day of the war council meeting, Abraham had many of his biggest warriors standing beside him. And he announced that while he was praying that morning, the lord again had spoken to him and he said, “Among those who want to follow the old ways I see that there are many with beautiful souls, and are good god fearing people. And among those who want to follow you, Abraham, there are also many with beautiful souls, and are good god fearing people. Both groups must live side by side in peace. And so I command that those who want to follow the old ways are to be free to do so, and those who want to follow my instructions to you, Abraham, are to be free to do so. Let both groups live together in peace.”
Many of the villagers were perplexed by this and said, “Hmmm, we can do that? You mean we don’t have to kill each other to decide this. Those who want to live the old way can live as they wish, and others can follow god’s instructions to Abraham?”
“Yes,” said Abraham. “Now let us all go in peace.”
The villagers who had been unhappy with Abraham, looked over at the big guys that Abraham had standing beside him, they looked over at Abraham and thought he was a pretty decent guy, and they started to warm up to this idea. And as the days passed, peace was found throughout the land.
Well, that’s my post for this week.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.