Aesop Lies to Children

Guest Post by Austin Yoder

If you grew up in an English-speaking country, as I did, you probably grew up with the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Although originally written by Aesop, the story has gone through tons of adaptations and variations. I remember the above video from my childhood. This exact Disney clip. (How cool is Youtube?) Aesop’s fable presents us with two distinct paradigms:

1) The hare: faster and generally better at his art than everyone else, but too arrogant for his own good. Because the hare is an unfocused, overindulgent playboy, he loses.

2) The tortoise: a slow but persistent doofus who plods along at glacial speeds, incapable of a better performance. The tortoise is only able to win the race because of the hare’s arrogance – not because he had trained his ass off. Not because he outsmarted the hare, or was a superior strategist. The tortoise is a loser who stumbled on careless competition.

The basic message of the story condenses down to this: It’s better to move slowly and methodically in the race (i.e. business, relationships, learning etc…) than it is to move so fast that you 1) become overly cocky or 2) burn out. If the tortoise and the hare represented the only two alternatives open to us, Aesop’s message would be (arguably) correct. However, there are other alternatives. In Aesop’s quest to teach the world a moral lesson, he got it terribly wrong. The fable of the tortoise and the hare is a dirty, filthy false dilemma.

Let’s break it down:

What are the traits that the hare embodies?

Speed, adeptness and pomposity. Do those traits necessarily go together? Of course not.

What are the traits that the tortoise embodies?

Sluggishness, ineptitude and persistence. Do those traits necessarily go together? If you said no, you’d be right again.

By grouping these traits together under the tortoise and the hare, Aesop demonizes efficacy and elevates persistence above other traits that would help you win your race faster.

Did Aesop Get it Right?

What would happen if we applied Aesop’s moral lesson to our businesses, our relationships or any other aspect of our daily lives?

If we were to take a hare approach, we would start at a sprint and fizzle out. Our start-up would collapse. Our new romantic interest would think we were needy, self-important or annoying. If we were to take a tortoise approach, we wouldn’t get anywhere fast, and would only succeed if we never encountered more astute, better-skilled competition.

The Alternative…

…is to smack the hare across his fuzzy button nose so that he doesn’t take a nap in the middle of his race. If the hare weren’t stupid enough to sleep while he was on the job, he would have run the tortoise into the ground. Speed of execution does not always go hand in hand with arrogance. If you can cultivate a speed and method that allow you to trump your competition, expand your network or win whatever other race you’re running – do it.

Longfellow wrote:

The heights of great men reached and kept,
Were not obtained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.

In the same vein: my newest favorite quote, courtesy Marcus Aurelius:

At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?'”

What is the moral lesson we should read between the lines of Aesop’s fables – the ultimate truth we should really take away from the parable of the tortoise and the hare?

Be faster than your competition. Be better than your competition. So much so that you could take a nap in the middle of your race. BUT, instead of being an arrogant ass like the hare, don’t stop until you finish.

It’ll be much more satisfying to nap after you’ve won the race, the prestige, the girls (or boys) and the prizes anyway.

So what about you? Are you more of a tortoise or a hare right now?

As the new year approaches, what are you doing to become a freaky tortoise-hare hybrid of competition domination?

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