In a glass

Perhaps you’ve noticed that, from occasion to occasion, people like to offer parables on the blogs. Most of the time, these aren’t really parables; they are screeds with a bit of powder and blush. But, lately, I’ve felt a parable welling up within me. I don’t know that it actually has a particular target. Feel free to discuss that in the comments, if you must.

There once was a person who was travelling from one town to another. The way was treacherous, but guard posts and watchtowers had been established along the way in order to help travelers who got lost or found themselves in danger. Well, our traveler was caught in a rock-slide and trapped along the way. No amount of digging or wriggling seemed to offer escape.

Soon after the rock-slide, a group of oddly-dressed rescuers appeared. Each wore a harness that held a mirror directly in front of their own face. They called out to each other, listening to their comrades’ responses in order to judge where to walk.

As they approached, the traveler cried out, “Please help me! I’m trapped.”

The rescuers were galvanized. Each judged its own reflection closely.

Some were pleased with their ability to empathize with the trapped, enraptured by the sincerity of their own tears and sobs on the wounded’s behalf.

Others nodded sagely, noting their own freedom from obstacles and exhorting the trapped to choose similarly stable paths.

Still others carefully examined their own reactions to the trapped; were they showing forth sufficient compassion in reaching out to the trapped, while still conveying their own commitment to stability, order, and freedom of movement?

A final group adopted expressions of anger and despair so as to show solidarity with the trapped, decrying the unsuitability of the path, its many dangers, the likelihood of future rock-slides and the frequency of slides in the past.

Each of the four groups converged upon the trapped, hearkening to the voice and hoping to help. The empathizers offered consolation, the wise offered counsel, the committed offered the help they felt appropriate, and the outraged demanded that something be done. Each group saw its own reaction to the help offered and was pleased with the result. Each had done what they knew to do. Help had been extended. Each left in turn, satisfied.

Except the traveller, still trapped. No rescuer had ever even seen her.


  1. No rescuer had ever even seen *her*. A number of women in the Church would agree.

  2. Thank you. I found a deep sense of horror and frustration in both having been one who was trapped and one in each of the responding group. I am taking a class on human trafficking this term, and I think that it is a very useful parable for that context to. I will be sharing this with my classmates.

  3. John, this is great.

  4. And a fifth heard the voice and recognized in a moment of existential awareness that he was alone, she was alone, the path was ultimately Absurd, and the closest he would ever come to seeing was just mirror neurons firing anyway. And then moved one tiny pebble off the pile because he could and because why not? (Although in a fit of delusional self-justification he might rationalize himself as a “do unto others” sort of person.)

  5. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing.

  6. yes, this was good — a horror parable!

  7. English major types,
    Is this actually a parable? I’m unsure of the genre standards.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    I’m not sure if there is a linguistic definition of a parable, but parables are similar in purpose to Aesop’s fables, and it definitely sounds like one of those.

  9. Special K says:

    In the Mormon tradition of relying on the dictionary (and more recently Wikipedia) for definitions of words we use at church, I vote that yes, this is a parable.

    Also, I really like this parable. I’ll be chewing on it for a while. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Aussie Mormon says:

    Interesting… Parables differ from fables “in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters”.
    That being the case, looks like a parable to me.

  11. Loved this. Really made me think about my responses when someone needs help. Too often I am examine my motives instead of just helping. Just wonder if you have noticed in church how we can just go through the motions, visit or home teach, meet with the bishop, fill out forms, attend meetings, teach lessons, without ever actually solving any problems or really helping. I spent years in a newsletter calling that allowed the bishop to report all ward members had been contacted each month even though nobody’s real needs for contact or support were ever met.

  12. Franklin says:

    You forgot to mention that the rescuers were a group of Republicans.

  13. Jane and Franklin,
    Probably any society, including the two you mentioned, could be found among the rescuers. Of course, more often than not, so am I. As mentioned in the first paragraph, this isn’t aimed at any group in particular.

  14. thank you, Jane, for the inward looking response. I think the only qualifier for a parable is if it makes people look inward. If your first response to a parable is “thank goodness I’m not like them”, then you’re missing the point.

  15. I guess I was mistaken in beliefing this to be a Mormon blog. Franklin has reminded me it is a place to come to bash the Republicans.
    I thought by bringing up the failure to actually help people in some of our outward acts within the LDS Church I could start a discussion on how to combat that tendency. Wrong again. What was I thinking, that others might like to brainstorm solutions? Heaven help me. Solutions on a blog!

  16. Jane,
    I agree that solutions would be nice. Presumably some combination of charity and the Holy Spirit, along with our wayward souls, cause us to occasionally see someone else. But probably that is too defeatist.

    Probably an initial step is, to use a common mash-up of 1 Cor 13:12 and Moroni 7:48: to see as we are seen. To actually look at and listen to others, reserving judgment, and to offer them aid without ulterior motive. Of course, that’s likely impossible in any mortal situation, but trying for it probably makes us a bit more saintly.

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