There are (at least) two recurrent and worrisome themes that anyone working bring about social change, anyone engaged in the alchemy of justice should keep in the front of our hearts and minds. One is Terry Goodkind’s second rule from the Wizards Rules in his Sword of Truth series. The Wizard’s second rule says that the greatest harm can result from the best intentions. And the second theme is the assertion by Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Psychology, which reminds us that 90% of what we see is projection. Amy Tan’s story of a man who dedicated his life to Saving Fish from Drowning is a great example of both of these themes.
Amy Tan tells the story of a pious man who daily explained to his followers that it is evil to take lives and noble to save them. And, so each day he pledged to save 100 lives. And each day he would drop his net into the lake – I think it was Lake Erie – and he would scoop out 100 fish. He would then place the fish on the bank where they would flop and twirl
“Don’t be scared” he would tell the fish, “I am saving you from drowning.” Soon enough the fish would grow calm and lie still. Yet sad to say, he was always too late. The fish always died.
And because it is evil to waste anything, he would take those dead fish to market and sell them for a good price at the market – it might have been the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
With the money he received, he would buy more nets so he could save more fish.
He just wanted to help save lives.
He had the best of intentions. He saw the fish in need of saving. He say himself as their savior. We each need to view the process and practices of work for social change, for the alchemy of justice, through the lens of accurate empathy, compassion and respect for unique and particular vulnerabilities and dignity. The skills of listening and deep empathy are important tools to facilitate this process.