Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Horse Race

Once upon a time there was a race between five pairs of horses. Each pair was to be hitched to a cart laden with an equal number of rocks. The team that reached the finish line first would be declared the winner and, as prize, would receive a lifetime's supply of grain. The rules were simple.

On the day of the race, the five owners of five pairs of horses presented themselves for the contest. The first pair of horses was one belonging to a man of renown who prided himself on how he cared for his animals. The pair was well-groomed, well-fed and the observers of the race oohed and aahed at them, declaring them fine specimens, looking forward to seeing how they ran the race.

The second pair had been mistreated and malnourished by their owner, a cruel man who many among the community feared. Yet many of the people gathered there that day looked forward to seeing how well they could perform and were, quietly, rooting for them to win.

The third pair of horses belonged to a man who was known to be quite ill and, therefore, unable to care for them as much as he wished. The two horses looked rather frail themselves but many were confident that they could, at least, complete the race and believed that these horses still had a chance to win.

The fourth team was owned by a man who, for various reasons, had a second job that wouldn't allow him to stay with his horses and watch the race. He hadn't trained his animals himself but had entrusted them to a stranger and, on this day as on so many others, couldn't stay to see the fruits of his labor and the results of his effort. He deposited his team at the starting line and left promptly so that he could continue to earn the grain that they already needed to survive.

The fifth pair of horses wasn't so much a pair. One of them had died on the way to the race. Yet, their owner was confident that one of his horses, alone, could compete as well as the other, paired, horses and insisted on being allowed to enter them. Under the rules and conditions, he argued, his one horse stood just as great a chance of winning as those paired around them. The judges of the race, swayed by his argument, agreed that his horse could compete that day.

All the teams lined up and the race began. When the dust had cleared, the winner was obvious. The first, most beautiful, pair of horses had won the race handily, leaving the others behind. The third and fifth pair of horses hadn't even come close to the finish line, though they struggled with their loads even after the race was won, trying to at least complete their task. The second team, startled by the noise of the other horses and the crowd had frozen, stock still and refused to move beyond the first few steps. The fourth team, who, being horses, didn't quite understand the point of the race, meandered a bit but did, eventually, reach the finish line after everyone else had gone home.

After the fuss over the winners died down a bit, a child who had come up with the rest of the crowd stood petting the be-ribboned winning team and asked the owner of them, "A lifetime's supply of grain is an awful lot, isn't it? Could you share some of what you've won with the other horses and their owners?" The crowd roared at this, the owner of the winning team loudest of all. He patted the child on the head and cried, "Why, of course not, young man!" He pointed at the departing owners, saying, "They ran the race same as my horses! The track was even, the day fine, the carts and loads the same, weren't they?" The boy nodded, noticing all this to be true. "Why," the man continued, feeling bolder as he saw the prize being driven toward him, "everything in this race was done on a fair and equal basis! I (and my horses) earned that prize! Why should others prosper off our labor? Where's the fairness in that? Share? I think not. This grain belongs to me and mine, rightfully."

The boy, who was, after all, young and impressionable, couldn't help but agree with the man. After all, in a child's eyes, an adult is generally right unless proven by someone else to be wrong. Yet, some in the crowd had a vague feeling that things hadn't, actually, been quite equal. A few of them muttered together about making the next race, or the one after that, a bit more fair and objecting if it wasn't. Most of them, however, didn't want to challenge such a prominent and successful member of the community. And, so, they stayed quiet, assuring themselves that things would change over time and the race would become a fair one eventually. Because, after all, surely one who had as much as the winning man couldn't go on forever thinking that his advantage over the others in the town was truly fair. Could he?

1 comment:

  1. the post started off scaring me-- I thought "oh no a math problem" and you know how I am with math! :) A lovely story......... and as disconcerting as real life can be.