“Long Handled Spoons”

Once upon a time an angel was asked, “Please show me Heaven and Hell!”

First the angel presented a room with a large round table and a pot of stew in the middle. It smelled delicious, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They were holding spoons with very long handles and all could reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handles were longer than their arms, they couldn’t get the spoons back to their mouths. And so they were starving.

The angel said, “This is Hell.”

Then the angel presented another room, which also had a large round table and a pot of stew in the middle. The people there had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well-nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The angel said, “This is Heaven. These people feed each other, while those who insist on doing it all on their own starve.”

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Much is made in American culture about the ‘rugged individual,’ pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and all that. But the reality is, if you’re living in society, no matter how ‘rugged’ and ‘independent’ you think you are, you still depend entirely on others to survive — to grow your food and make your clothes and everything.

What about that lone cowboy in the prairie who “don’t need nobody for nuthin'”? Well, he’s got a six-gun in his holster — that gun and ammo were made at a factory back east. That saddle on his horse? Made by a skilled leather craftsman in town who got his leather and tools from others. The shoes on his horse? The iron was made at an iron mill in Pennsylvania and the horseshoes were mass-produced at yet another factory.

What about someone ‘living off the land’ back in the wilderness somewhere? Even then they’d likely have tools like a survival knife made in the civilized world. Or what about someone living off the land using nothing but rocks and their bare hands to survive? Even then, they still needed others to teach them their survival skills. Unless someone was an infant left alone in the wilderness who managed to figure out how to survive all by themselves, they were dependent on others to teach them how to survive.

Indeed, in ancient Greece, one of the worst punishments that could befall you was to be banished from the city. Because then you were entirely on your own. Alone. Good luck with that!

No one is an island. Because we live in society, in an enormous community, we all have ‘long-handled spoons’ with which we feed each other. We can’t survive otherwise.

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