Everybody loves a story, right? They speak to us as humans in so many ways : from scary campfire tales to blockbuster horror, the plays of Shakespeare to story adverts (Kenco, John Lewis, the EDF blob (see below))
some of them are supposed to be culturally significant, and some are supposed to just be entertaining. The trick is spotting which is which. The EDF blob, by the way, is obviously the former : many people feel their lives will not be complete until they can own a little ‘Mr Zingy’.
These books are part of my 70’s childhood : Ah, Ladybird books, as comfortable and unthreatening as listening to the shipping forecast by the fire with a nice cup of tea and a round of toast. A story about a chicken who makes a loaf of bread, and one about an old lady with a recalcitrant pig, which surprisingly, hold the answers to some of the conundrums of community gardening.
The Little Red Hen is about a chicken who finds some grains of wheat, and instead of just eating them, she looks for help from the other farmyard animals to plant them : none of them is interested in helping with the work it takes to create a whole loaf of bread, until the very end, when they are all keen to help her eat it.
My work life in community landscape architecture is so like this I have often thought of calling my company Little Red Hen Ltd : there are any number of ‘charities’ and ‘social enterprises’ to ‘help’ community groups spend their money, once they have worked for years to form a group and get funding, but no-one who wants to do the laborious work of helping people to learn how to work together for shared aims.
In the other book, the old woman buys a pig, then can’t make it jump the stile to get to her cottage : she asks a dog to bite it, but it wont, so she asks a stick to beat the dog, but it won’t, and so on, until she comes across a cat who makes a bargain, that it will kill the rat if she gets it some milk. To get the milk she has to fetch the cow some hay, and after that everything falls rapidly into place, and the pig springs over the stile at the mere sight of the dog’s teeth, and she does get home that night.
Both stories are about the limits and possibilities of self-interest : it’s legitimate to profit from the fruit of your labour : why should that chicken give away the loaf she’s worked so hard to produce? (I do remember as a child, worrying about what the hen was living off while doing all that work : times were hard in the farm!). Conversely, the old woman is caught in a chain of interdependence that she isn’t able to unlock until she offers something to the people she wants help from.
Are you more like the entrepreneurial & pioneering little red hen who can do it all herself, or more like the old woman, who wastes so much energy before finally understanding that she must give something to get something?