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March 2009 Archives

Foxes in Wells

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My husband was reading Aesop's Fables to our daughter in the car the other day (on my iPhone; the juxtaposition of ancient and modern was brilliant). Fox in Well.jpgI'm familiar with the big ones - Tortoise and the Hare, Sour Grapes, etc. - but he read one that I hadn't heard or at least didn't remember. It went like this:

Once, due to an unfortunate mishap, a fox fell down a deep well that he was unable to climb out of. Eventually, a goat happened to walk by, looked down the well, and said, "Friend, what are you doing down there?"

The fox replied, "Haven't you heard? There's going to be a great drought and when it comes I will be here where there's water. You should come down, too."

So the goat jumped down the well. Immediately the fox sprang onto the goat's back, and by jumping off his long horns, managed to climb out of the well. "So long, friend," the fox said to the goat as he went on his way.

The moral is, never take advice from someone in difficulty.

Good point. Right now, the nonprofit sector and our economy in general is littered with foxes in wells: institutions led by smart people who somehow weren't paying attention and got into trouble. And before you start thinking I'm being sanctimonious, let me say that we've ALL done it. Perhaps we were hoping something else would happen; perhaps we were concentrating on other things when, bam, there we were at the bottom of a well. (I once fell into an open sewer grate in Chang Rai, Thailand, but that's another story.) The point is, there are a lot of institutions out there in difficulty. How do we view their advice?

The nonprofit sector likes to share success stories, but rarely if ever do we analyze case studies of what went wrong. I've been to many seminars and workshops in which people and institutions tout their smart new approaches, but I can't recall seeing the "a while later this is what really happened" follow up session. After all, the fox could probably have survived for quite a while, albeit thinly: he had access to water and there was probably a rat or two to eat once in awhile. But is that success? There are certainly cases where the people and institutions have received a bailout from a friendly but unwise goat, but did they learn from the experience? We ought to, at least.

So, my thought for the day is threefold: watch out for wells; don't jump in without an escape plan; and look at the whole situation before deciding to follow advice. 








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