There’s a powerful story about a little boy walking along the bank of a river. He sees a crocodile who is trapped in a net. The crocodile says, “Would you have pity on me and release me? I may look ugly, but it isn’t my fault, you know. I was made this way. But whatever my external appearance, I have a mother’s heart. I came this morning in search of food for my young ones and got caught in this trap!”
So the boy says, “Ah, if I were to help you out of that trap, you’d grab me and kill me.”
The crocodile asks, “Do you think I would do that to my benefactor and liberator?”
So the boy is persuaded to take the net off and the crocodile grabs him.
As he is being forced between the jaws of the crocodile, he says, “So this is what I get for my good actions.” And the crocodile says, “Well, don’t take it personally, son, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.”
The boy disputes this, so the crocodile says, “Do you want to ask someone if it isn’t so?”
The boy sees a bird sitting on a branch and says, “Bird, is what the crocodile says right?” The bird says, “The crocodile is right. Look at me. I was coming home one day with food for my fledglings. Imagine my horror to see a snake crawling up the tree, making straight for my nest. I was totally helpless. It kept devouring my young ones, one after the other. I kept screaming and shouting, but it was useless. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.”
“See,” says the crocodile. But the boy says, “Let me ask someone else.” So the crocodile says, “Well, all right, go ahead.”
There was an old donkey passing by on the bank of the river. “Donkey,” says the boy, “this is what the crocodile says. Is the crocodile right?”
The donkey says, “The crocodile is quite right. Look at me. I’ve worked and slaved for my master all my life and he barely gave me enough to eat. Now that I’m old and useless, he has turned me loose, and here I am wandering in the jungle, waiting for some wild beast to pounce on me and put an end to my life. The crocodile is right, this is the law of life, this is the way the world is.”
“See,” says the crocodile. “Let’s go!”
The boy says, “Give me one more chance, one last chance. Let me ask one other being. Remember how good I was to you?” So the crocodile says, “All right, your last chance.”
The boy sees a rabbit passing by, and he says, “Rabbit, is the crocodile right?”
The rabbit sits on his haunches and says to the crocodile, “Did you say that to that boy? The crocodile says, “Yes, I did.” “Wait a minute,” says the rabbit. “We’ve got to discuss this.” “Yes,” says the crocodile. But the rabbit says, “How can we discuss it when you’ve got that boy in your mouth? Release him; he’s got to take part in the discussion, too.” The crocodile says, “You’re a clever one, you are. The moment I release him, he’ll run away.” The rabbit says, “I thought you had more sense than that. If he attempted to run away, one slash of your tail would kill him.”
“Fair enough,” says the crocodile, and he released the boy. The moment the boy is released, the rabbit says, “Run!” And the boy runs and escapes. Then the rabbit says to the boy, “Don’t you enjoy crocodile flesh? Wouldn’t the people in your village like a good meal? You didn’t really release that crocodile; most of his body is still caught in that net. Why don’t you go to the village and bring everybody and have a banquet.”
That’s exactly what the boy does. He goes to the village and calls all the men folk. They come with their axes and staves and spears and kill the crocodile. The boy’s dog comes, too, and when the dog sees the rabbit, he gives chase, catches hold of the rabbit, and throttles him. The boy comes on the scene too late, and as he watches the rabbit die, he says, “The crocodile was right, this is the way the world is, this is the law of life.”
“Here’s how we’ve organized traditional schooling:
You’re certain to have these classes tomorrow.
The class will certainly follow the syllabus.
There will certainly be a test.
If you do well on the test, you will certainly go on to the next year.
If you do well on the other test, you’ll certainly get to go to a famous college.
After you repeat these steps obediently for more than ten years, there will be a placement office, where there will certainly be a job ready for you, with fixed hours and a career path.
People telling you what to do, and when you respond by reciting the notes you took, people rewarding you.
We’ve trained people to be certain for years, and then launch them into a culture and an economy where relying on certainty does us almost no good at all.
Broken-field running, free range kids, the passionate desire to pick yourself—that seems like a more robust and resilient way to prepare, doesn’t it? Who’s teaching you what to do when the certain thing doesn’t happen?”