How the Monkey Saved the Fish

How the Monkeys Saved the Fish


The rainy season that year had been the strongest ever and the river had broken its banks. There were floods everywhere and the animals were all running up into the hills. The floods came so fast that many drowned except the lucky monkeys who used their proverbial agility to climb up into the treetops. They looked down on the surface of the water where the fish were swimming and gracefully jumping out of the water as if they were the only ones enjoying the devastating flood.

One of the monkeys saw the fish and shouted to his companion: “Look down, my friend, look at those poor creatures. They are going to drown. Do you see how they struggle in the water?” “Yes,” said the other monkey. “What a pity! Probably they were late in escaping to the hills because they seem to have no legs. How can we save them?” “I think we must do something. Let’s go close to the edge of the flood where the water is not deep enough to cover us, and we can help them to get out.”

So the monkeys did just that. They started catching the fish, but not without difficulty. One by one, they brought them out of the water and put them carefully on the dry land. After a short time there was a pile of fish lying on the grass motionless. One of the monkeys said, “Do you see? They were tired, but now they are just sleeping and resting. Had it not been for us, my friend, all these poor people without legs would have drowned.”

The other monkey said: “They were trying to escape from us because they could not understand our good intentions. But when they wake up they will be very grateful because we have brought them salvation.” (Traditional Tanzanian Folktale)

I was travelling home from Pasar Baroe with my family last Sunday, and I had no idea why we were somewhere around Pluit when my father started a conversation. We were going through a street with a river (not sure if it’s natural) next to us, and we were able to see a lot of bird peddlers. My father then, probably aware of curiosity in my eyes, informed me that they are sparrow peddlers. There are Buddhist temples around and so Buddhist community around too, and they are buying sparrows, out of compassion, to release them. It is counted as a good deed. Of course, I didn’t verify that information and you have all the right to question the validity of it, but let’s assume that information is true and you can see an interesting perspective from it.

So, this is the simple story of it:

A bird peddler sells sparrows—A Buddhist buys sparrows and releases them—The bird peddler profits, he captures more sparrows—The Buddhist buys and releases more from the peddler—More people become bird peddlers, more sparrows captured—More Buddhists buy and release sparrow—and so on

You can see that the compassion to help the sparrows have turned into the reason more sparrows are captured. So, I come to conclusion that leaving the sparrows to die in the cage, or getting eaten, or any unfortunate events whatsoever befall to them, is better in aggregate, since it will crush the market for sparrows with the absence of demand for it. Peddlers acquired nothing but losses and they will stop capturing sparrows. Some sparrows, or a lot of sparrows, however will suffer earlier, but their relatives in the future will have a better probability of not ending in a cage at all. Indeed, there are too many assumptions and flaws in the model, but that is not the main concern in this post.

I’m trying to take you to the interesting perspective in this story, just like the Tanzanian folktale above, that compassion does not necessarily result in good ending. Compassion has been mistakenly overrated by the society as far as I observe. The people around me keep emphasizing intention over result; things like “at least you intent good, that’s enough” and “the intention was good, it was just wrongly implemented”. The monkeys had good intention, the Buddhists had good intention, but it just doesn’t work that way. Compassion is not enough, or worse, is not good in every scenario. Sounds morally incorrect, I know, but it also sounds like the truth.

What do you think? Or feel?

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