The Parable of the River

Long ago, there was a small village on the edge of a river. The people there lived in harmony with nature; each other, and life were good. One day as a villager began his early morning stroll, he noticed that their once-vibrant river was looking slightly murkier than usual and contained some sludge and pollution resting on the banks.

The villager quickly went out of his way to clear the pollution away, seemingly restoring the flow. The next day the same villager noticed two lifeless fish in the river. He called for help, and both fish were scooped out from the waters. The following day debris started to build up, and the river's flow started to become constricted, cutting off water to the village. Naturally, the villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers and environmentalists who could resist the swift waters and dislodge the debris. Clean up squads were soon working 24 hours a day to keep up with the increasing pollution. But each day, the amount of pollution floating down the river increased.

By this point, the cleaning squads were removing entire nets of diseased fish each day. While not all the fish could be removed from the river, the villagers felt they were doing well to clean up as much as possible each day. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their excellent work. And life in the village continued on that basis for many months. One day, however, a young girl was playing by the riverside and saw the pollution...she looked off into the distance and turned to her grandfather, "but where is all this waste coming from? She asked. Let’s organize a team to head upstream to find out who’s throwing all of their trash into the river in the first place!"   

The seeming logic of the community elders countered: "But if we go upstream, who will take care of the rescue operations? We need every concerned person here, don’t be so ridiculous!" "But don't you see," cried the girl, "if we find out who is polluting the river at all, we can stop the problem, and no fish will die! By going upstream, we can eliminate the cause of the problem!" She exclaimed. "It is far too risky, and we need all the help here," said the village elders. And so the numbers of fish found floating in the river increased daily, and the river became dirtier. 

One day, the young girl decided to go upstream herself to find the source of corruption. Eventually, she came across the basis of the pollution….upstream she found a mountain of plastic from the building of a nearby village that was releasing chemicals into the once beautiful river and blocking up the waterways, preventing the flow from clearing it out. She smiled to herself and began to remove as much as she could. Each day she pulled a piece at a time..and in time, the river returned to normal….much to the other villagers' dismay.

Problem - Solving Process

This is a beautiful little parable to consider when you're trying to explain the problem-solving process. To truly solve any issue, you have to come at it from different angles, sometimes multiple times. It also speaks to solving problems at their core...many times, like the flu or common cold, once you start noticing “symptoms,” chances are, the situation has been present for a while already.

When faced with an issue, you can keep solving the consequences or effects that it causes and stay “up to date” with the problems, but unless you solve the root of the problem, it will keep producing more and more things that have to deal with. Much like Western Medicine treating diseases as and when they appear, sometimes it is better to act in the prevention and stop any foreseeable consequences in the first place.

Perhaps we can even argue that treating the products of a problem aren’t sustainable since no matter how much energy we devote to them, our energy and focus will always eventually be needed somewhere else….so the takeaway lesson from this parable then is to always look at a situation from every angle before deciding on how to act on it, take into account every option and look for the root of your issue rather than its consequences. 

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