Monday, August 23, 2010

Barack, The Fourth Stone Cutter

The Parable of the Three Stone Cutters has been used to teach many fatuous lessons about motivation and management. I have come to assume that the great majority of the fools who write high-minded lessons around the story of the stonecutters have never done anything nearly as brutal as cutting stone in their lives. They are mainly clueless, soft-handed romantics. If they had ever had to put their lily hands on cold stone on a winter’s morning themselves, they would know that it takes something much more intrinsic- like a workman’s pride- or desperate- like a father’s urge to feed his family to keep a man chipping cold rock, breathing stone dust and splitting his raw hands to shape the stone. For those of you unfamiliar with the tale (or who have succeeded in erasing it from your memory) here is a pretty good version of it you can read without being unduly distressed by the moralizing that usually accompanies it.

Now, most of the re-tellers of this story seem to find the third stonecutter to be the very model employee. Personally, if I were make the choice to let one of these three people go, I would have fired that starry-eyed dreamer. People like that are too easily disillusioned and embittered by a real struggle. But that’s just me…

At any rate, I think there should have been a fourth stonecutter. Here is my addition to the parable:
The fourth stonecutter was the busiest of all. While he worked he talked loudly and confidently to nobody in particular about his stone and the cathedral it would some day be a part of. But the stone he was working on was very small and so jagged that it seemed suited only to be a minor detail piece or architectural bauble. When asked why he was chipping so energetically at such a small block he looked up with a smug grin and said:

I cut this stone to bring hope and change. Oh, make no mistake; before it came under my control this stone was once the largest, squarest and most durable stone ever found in the quarry! Amidst this quarry, whose stone has always been of the highest quality and repute, this one was originally hewn out of the bedrock by a group of craftsmen who came together and labored with skill and endurance to fulfill their keep safe their homes and possessions, feed their children and build an edifice made of the efforts and dreams of workers, soldiers and adventurers- each one his own master. This stone was the paragon. It was obviously a superb candidate to become the cornerstone for a great cathedral.

But I was elected foreman of this quarry last year and I have made it my business to make sure that this wonderful stone is used to the highest purpose- that it serve the greatest good for the most people. This is the reason I was elected. I have made it my life’s work to make sure that all people share equally in the benefits of the stones we quarry here.

Of course, it is true that I had never actually cut a stone before I was elected but I brought the people something more important than that. I promised them hope and change. My only real expertise and experience is in training others to demand that all our stones be used to benefit everyone, regardless of the amount or quality of stone cutting work that they do. By the shear force of my eloquence, the universality of my appeal and stalwart insistence on hope and change above achievement and labor I won the opportunity to see that the great stones of this quarry are rearranged and reconfigured for the good of everyone.

So, you see, the first thing I had to do was make this great stone into an expression of the highest ideals of equality and inclusion. That is why I am working so hard at chipping this stone up. So much beautiful stone, all in one lump, is an insult to those ideals.

As for my quarry mates:

The second stonecutter will do whatever we tell him to do because his only concern is to feed his family. He will work hard for them no matter what we do.

My friend; the third stonecutter will suffer the most, of course. Dreams, cathedrals and grandeur will have no place in my world of hope and change. We don’t need a cathedral for broken secular dreams. There is no need of big block walls for a fortress. Who would believe that we would fight to to defend a dream for which we go abroad and apologize so willingly? We certainly to not need stout stones to build strong banks when they have done their best to disburse their monies into home mortgages and other loans to people without the means to pay on them.

Hope without knowing what to hope for and change with no goal in mind become pretty stark and small after a while. The only romanticism here in my quarry is the utopia of equality and there is nothing dazzling about half the ppopulation getting things they do not work for and the other half slaving to buy them those things.

It will not be easy for him. He will have to change the reason that he cuts stone. Perhaps little, personal monuments- like polished gravestones will make him feel better. We will always need them.

But it is the first stonecutter that I worry about the most. This plain spoken man has pride and he knows who he is. He will keep on cutting true stone. He sees himself as a stonecutter and will cut on no matter what. He has the strength and the independence to know when his cutting is being ill-used. He will not adjust well to making crooked, jagged little stones and he will insist on being rewarded for his effort. Mark my words, We must keep an eye on that first stonecutter.


General P. Malaise said...

excellent essay Yaacov.

...are you sure the 4th stoned cutter isn't a union organizer ?

General P. Malaise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Would you believe a community organizer?

Jewish Odysseus said...

The funny thing is, in the capitalist corporate world, the parable-spouting motivator is roughly equivalent to the community organizer in the socialist welfare world. Neither has any value nor adds any value, and all of their efforts are geared to persuading the grunts/little people that they ARE needed...and of course smooching the butts of the big-shots.

I love how you used both against each other, mah brother! WELL-DONE!!

Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Right JO. They believe in the little people only so they can be BIG PEOPLE at their expence. As self-reliance is replaced by reliance on "The Bigs" so is America turned into Europe.

Anonymous said...

The beast

Xanthippa said...

Good story-telling.

I have not heard the story of the three stone cutters before - and I find it difficult to believe that most people would praise the third stone-cutter...who, at the slightest pretexts, stops working and gabs on without end about his dreams rather than the 1st stone cutter who is polite, but has a good work ethic.

I mean, I do believe you that people praise the third stone cutter - I just pity them if they do.