Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Joe Omundson

image vs. reality

There is a man who only values his life to the same degree that he believes other people value it. He puts all of his effort into appearing that he is healthy and happy, to create an impression of worth for his peers, as this is what makes him feel worthy; but he neglects the opportunity to work toward actually becoming a full person. He impresses a lot of people with his showy, generous actions at first, and people put their trust in him, but eventually it is recognized that his life is a deceptive veneer, and he loses everyone close to him who believed his lies. Having no real capacity for growth, or sense of self worth, he eventually shrivels into a confused, desperate version of the man he could be.


There is a group of people who are lost in the woods, and it grows cold as afternoon progresses into evening. They decide to stay put, thinking it better to brave a cold night than to become more lost wandering around in the dark.

One man from the group realizes that this is his chance to be a hero. Finally -- people will tell stories about his bravery and generous leadership. He quickly builds a fire by gathering dry grass and leaves, lighting them, and saying “Look how brightly my fire burns! Circle around and warm yourselves by it.” The fire grows as tall as the man and crackles loudly. Many people in the group think “Wow, look at this big fire! Thank goodness, he seems to know how to provide for us.”

But in a minute, the flames are already fading, because the burning grass has had nothing more substantial to ignite. The man nimbly dashes between patches of grass in order to demonstrate his physical ability to provide fuel for his fire, saying “Don’t worry, this fire will be great!”.

Over the next hour his existence becomes a frantic task of rushing about to gather grass and leaves, and in this manner he maintains his big, bright flames. Others are concerned that the fire keeps dying quickly, but when they express their observation, the man replies “Aren’t you grateful for the work I’ve done for you? Why don’t you trust me? I’m providing you with fire, would you rather I don’t save your life?” Ashamed to have offended the selfless man, they become silent.

In the meantime, a wise woman recognizes the folly of his method of fire-building, and senses that her knowledge will only be ignored by him. Having built many fires before, she understands the importance of gathering a sizable amount of fuel before starting her fire. Knowing that the crowd is too captured by the man to break away and help her, she begins making trips into the forest by herself, gathering some grass and leaves, but also twigs, sticks, branches, limbs, and logs. She fetches many armfuls of heavy wood. She sorts her materials by her fire pit, and then starts to place the tinder into her own fire ring, carefully arranging the smaller sticks and branches on top. The grass-gathering man briefly notices her efforts and scoffs to himself, “look at this woman who is so slow to start her fire. All this fuss and tedious work and no flames to show for it. Her fire will never be as grand as mine, and she is a fool for not joining my fire like these other people.” He makes a joke at her expense, the crowd laughs nervously, and some of them try to call her over to join them. She doesn’t appear to register their words.

As the sun sets, the people surrounding the fire of grass and leaves are still shivering in the cold because the fire is putting out very little actual heat. The man doesn’t notice their discomfort because he is so busy with his effort. Some of the group start trying to add grass and sticks themselves, but the man scolds them for interfering. Whenever someone tries to help, he insists that he do the work himself. “Just relax and enjoy yourself while I provide for you! Can’t you see I’ve had this under control the whole time?”

Eventually, he becomes exhausted from having to run farther and farther to find more grass, and collapses near the fire. Soon, nothing is left but a lukewarm pile of smoking ash, and in the dark the group begins to notice a growing light a short distance away. The woman has patiently nurtured a fire which is burning steadily, and she is relaxing next to it, warm and comfortable, and waves them over with a smile. Relieved, the freezing crowd migrates to her, and they gratefully begin to warm themselves.

As the temperature plummets, the man remains shivering on the ground by the remnants of his fire, too proud to join the others and admit that his methods were unrealistic. Instead, he grows bitter and delusional. “Why did everybody leave? Why didn’t they like me and my fire? They should have helped me maintain the bright flames. They must be cruel, stupid, worthless people. Imagine my misfortune at being stranded with such a group of idiots. My fire could have been great if they hadn’t stopped believing in me. This woman sabotaged my image, and turned the group against me intentionally. I hate her.” Deep down, he believes that everyone hates and rejects him, so he feels that his life has lost its meaning.

Everyone calls for him to join them at the warm fire, but no matter what they say they cannot make the choice for him. Some of the crowd come back to him in the cold and try to convince him that he needs to warm himself, but too proud to admit failure, he insists that he is perfectly comfortable resting as he is. Though the others can see that this is not true, he cannot be swayed, and when they attempt to pick him up and carry him over to save his life, he strikes at them, crying out that he is being treated wrongly. The others sadly give up and return to the warm fire, as they are beginning to become hypothermic themselves. The temperature continues to drop, and the violently shaking man loses consciousness for the last time. In the morning, everyone has survived the misadventure except for the man who placed more importance on his image than on his own life.


Don’t waste your life trying to create a favorable image. Spend your time working on yourself according to what you need to grow strong. It might not look glamorous, and it might take a long time, but you are building a foundation for what is to come. When all of your needs have been understood and met, your fire has been lit, and it is growing into a stable, warm, glowing thing, you will be glad for your humble work. You will be able to relax by your fire, create nourishing food, share warmth and laughter with loved ones, and feel secure knowing that the fuel you need for the future is already at hand. Those who have benefited from your wisdom will also gain strength and experience, and soon they will be eager to share in your work.

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