The Boy Who Mentioned Flow: A Fable

Once there was a small village by a river. Most of the villagers were shepherds, making their living in the hills surrounding the town, but one young lad lived as a fisherman, spending his days by the river and supplying fish to the townsfolk. This boy was well-liked in the village. He was trustworthy and competent and thus earned their trust. He was friendly and thus earned their friendship. He valued harmony, and had harmonious relations with everyone. This was a boy who liked to get along and to see others get along, to “go with the flow,” so to speak, and everyone felt that anything left in his hands was bound to go smoothly, with little muss or fuss.

One day, at a town meeting, the townsfolk spent quite some time complaining about another young man, a shepherd, who had recently amused himself by leading the whole village on a wild goose chase to fend off nonexistent wolves who were supposedly threatening the young man’s flock. The fisher boy didn’t think much of either the prankster or the town’s reaction to him–just let it pass and move on, he thought. When they were finished venting, he mentioned casually, “By the way, the flow of the river is up this month. What with all the rain this spring, and the runoff from last winter, the water level’s pretty high.” The townsfolk greeted this news amiably, because they liked the fisher boy, and, as usual, he spoke as if everything was well and under control. “That’s nice!” they said. “Hope it’s good for the fish!” The fisher boy actually was a bit concerned about the increased flow, but he felt good that he had alerted the town, and since they didn’t seem too worried, he supposed he shouldn’t be, either.

A month later, at the town meeting, the villagers were once again stewing about the shepherd boy, who had pulled the same prank again. This time, they were contemplating some kind of reprisal, but the fisher boy suggested that the other lad had probably learned his lesson, and that they should let bygones be bygones. He also mentioned that the river’s flow had increased even more, since the rains had continued, and that he’d never seen it so high. “Wow, how about that?” replied the townsfolk. Coming from the fisher boy, this didn’t sound like anything to be alarmed about. Remarkable, maybe, but not alarming. The fisher boy himself had been more concerned than ever about it, but, well, he’d done his duty and informed them. Apparently they saw no reason for agitation, and he sure wasn’t going to rock the boat.

The next month, the town met in the middle of a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions. Despite the weather, the townsfolk’s spirits were up, because that joking shepherd had finally gotten what was coming to him, in their view: real wolves had attacked and, when the cynical villagers refused to come to his aid, had decimated his flock. The fisher boy again mentioned that the river was really, really high now. As they came out of the meeting hall, they were greeted, to their horror, by water rushing through the streets of the village! As a sheep floated by, baaing in terror, and the townsfolk began to run around shouting “Flood, flood!” and desperately attempting to salvage their possessions, the mayor grabbed the fisher boy by the arm. “Fisher boy, you work by the river every day! Didn’t you see this coming? Why didn’t you cry ‘flood’ and warn us?”

“But I did warn you!” replied the tearful fisher boy. “I’ve been warning you for months! You just didn’t listen!”

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