Making the most of your wooden spoon
“This, explained the angel, is hell. The people do not love each other. They only want to feed themselves.” David Mitchell, Ghostwritten.
This week I share with you a brief summary of the allegory of the long spoons in which the residents of both heaven and hell journey through life with a long-handled wooden spoon as their only eating utensil.
So long are the spoon handles that, while there is no shortage of food available, the residents of hell starve. Although they are able to serve themselves a spoonful of stew, they are unable to get the food into their own mouths and they refuse to feed each other.
Conversely, although the residents of heaven are living under the same circumstances, they are healthy and thriving because they have learnt to co-operate and happily take turns feeding each other with their spoons.
What’s interesting about this piece of folklore is that although frequently attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok, Lithuania, similar versions of this story exist throughout Hebrew, Hindu, Buddhist, Middle Eastern and Christian writings, meaning that the true origin of the story is probably unknown.
What appeals to me about this tale is how simply it illustrates the point that, in order to experience what it feels like to live your own version of heaven on earth, all you might really need to do is start helping everyone around you and trust (dare we say have faith?) that help will also be available to you whenever you need it.
While some people might be tempted to dismiss this notion as being idealistic or flat out unrealistic, many of the people that I have been meeting recently would take a different view and look to this story for what it shows us about many different aspects of the human experience – things like the power of kindness, of awareness, of compassion, of alignment of values, of selflessness.
After all, how self-absorbed would you really have to be to be so focused on only serving yourself that you fail to notice both that the man on either side of you is starving, and that your own increasing greed and desperation are blinding you to the fact that there is plenty of food available if everyone cooperates?
In other words, despite the fact that the airlines and many self-help books will encourage you to put on your own oxygen mask first, is this really the best advice when it comes to building and sustaining your own version of heaven on earth? Or would it be better to employ a different approach?
Traditional logic might tell you that it is, but a feeling inside your heart might indicate otherwise.
Which begs a deeper question – if your heaven on earth is possible, will it operate according to the same rules and mantras that we are all too familiar with or will it operate according to a different set of principles?
In either case, how will you establish what the rules are? And how will you use these as your framework to build and take part in a world that works for all?
Because that’s the big question facing the world right now and not a simple question to answer because in attempting to answer this, we each bring our own unique perspective to the table.
In other words, I might have my own perspective regarding what a world that works for all might look like as will each person who reads this article.
The danger here is that because we each have a vision, we therefore each have an expectation regarding what the outcome of enacting that vision might look like. But our expectations are driven by ego and desire – dangerous ground indeed.
So, the real challenge becomes how do you set about enacting a vision of heaven on earth without expectation regarding the outcome of your project?
And so here we arrive, back at the cauldron of soup with our wooden spoon. And what we see is we can’t thrive by only feeding ourselves or by attempting to force-feed others.
We can only thrive by helping all those who come to us and by trusting that our efforts will spark a chain reaction that works for all in ways we cannot foresee.
Is heaven on earth possible for all? I think so.
Robin Trimingham is the managing director of The Olderhood Group Ltd and a business consultant, journalist, podcaster and thought leader in the fields of life transition and change management. Connect with Robin at https://bit.ly/3nSMlvc or firstname.lastname@example.org