This blog post was inspired by a great storyteller/blogger: http://astorytellerinistanbul.blogspot.de/
I wish to thank her for bringing the story about the cracked pot to life in such a relevant and resonant way. I also want to thank John Rogers for sharing the blog post.
The story of the cracked pot
Once upon a time there was a water bearer, who had two large pots, one hung on each end of a pole, which she carried across her neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect, and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the mistress’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water to her master’s house.
The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream: “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you.”
Why?” asked the bearer. What are you ashamed of?
“I have been able, for these past two years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your mistress’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don’t get full value from your efforts,” the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in her compassion she said, “As we return home, house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers, grass and vegetables along the path.”
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, the green grass and the ripe, delicious looking vegetables, and this cheered it some.
But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers, grass and vegetables only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?
“That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower and vegetable seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them.
“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers and delicious, nutritious vegetables to share them with my family and neighbors and make them very happy… “
Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima
I’ll be 51 in two weeks. I, too, am a cracked pot. I’ve earned my cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work, by taking the long road, often the road untaken, with very little shortcuts and magic solutions. I earned them with every time my heart broke and healed, with my body transformed by the years and bearing my children, with the silly things and bitter mistakes that I made. I, too, like the cracked pot, often wonder if I’m doing my job in the most effective and efficient manner; I too “drip” and only get some of the tasks done by the end of the day, and I have reminders on my google calendar to remind me of my tasks, because I forget…
But the story of the cracked pot invites us to think of this dripping not as a waste of time and resources. In this story, the water dripping from the cracked pot, in cooperation with the seeds and the soil, brings flowers and vegetables into life; creating nourishment and beauty. Yes, I, too, am dripping. When I postpone doing the laundry or writing that report, do tell my daughter a bed time story and cuddle next to her until she falls asleep; when I shut down the computer and decide not to read my e-mails late at night, so I could spend a few moments of grace with my partner, or watch a film with my son. I am dripping when I spent a few minutes at the beginning of each conference call to chat with my colleagues and ask them how they’re doing; or when I say to myself this writing block is not going anywhere, and I may as well take a long walk to clear my head; or put the phone on silent and make cranberry scones.
I share this story here because it is simple and beautiful; there’s a lot we can learn from it, as we strive to bring about social change. This story is an invitation to ponder about “dripping” in the context of working for social change as an investment in processes that will eventually yield sustainable impact; dripping in the sense of investing in deconstructing and redefining limits, power-relations, strategies; dripping in the sense of drawing wisdom from different types of knowledge.
Working for social and political change is a goal, but it is also a way of life, a way if being in the world; just as a story about content as much as it is about form. So, with your permission, let me linger a bit longer on this metaphor of dripping as we go along. Let me suggest that dripping, in the context of working for social change is:
To invest in building a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with our partners;
To remember that when we make the shared space unsafe for the other, we make the shared space unsafe for everyone
To recognize that silencing, intimidation, patronizing, belittling, coercion, are the “master’s tools”
To care for ourselves and for others. Because as Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”
To take a step back and make space for someone else, and stepping forward when necessary
To listen to stories, to share stories
To appreciate others and give credit
To explore ways to dismantle the paralyzing dichotomy of victim-aggressor
And, to remember that we are all cracked pots. We’ve earned our cracks, every single one of them, with hard, honest work; by taking the long road, with very few short cuts and no magic solutions.