The Monk and the Dam

Once upon a time, there rested a small hermitage at the top of a hill. A single monk resided there, and he would spend his days watching the comings and goings of the villagers below him as they went about their business, noting the patterns they kept in a small notebook which he kept in hand at all times. For their part the villagers entirely ignored the monk, preoccupied as they were with their own activities.

Seasons came and went, the moon and the sun and the stars passed by overhead, and the monk became very knowledgable in the ways of the village without ever stepping foot there. The monk carried on this way in solitude until one day when a young girl climbed to the top of the hill in great distress and implored the monk for help.

“Please, you must help me!” she pleaded, “for the dam holding the river from the village is near collapse, and yet none will listen to me. When water leaks through, they push a little grass into the hole or smear some mud nearby, and then go on their way!”

The monk considered the girl’s request briefly and then took up his notebook. As he scanned the pages of tidy drawings and observations, a pattern he had not yet discerned became clear: the villagers were placing themselves in incredible danger but blind to it.

“We must act at once!” he cried, and with the girl hard on his heels he ran to the village to warn them of the danger. To his dismay, few of the villagers would listen to him or the girl as they tried to explain - “The dam has held this long, why not a little longer?” “We’ve considered replacing it, but that would be too expensive, and besides, it’s holding up just fine.”

Distraught, the monk decided to retire to the hill and ponder how to approach the problem anew the next day. As he climbed the path to his hut, the girl and a few of the more curious villagers followed on the chance that they might too see the problem and divine a solution.

As they reached the top of the hill, the first of the patches began to come undone - a small stream of water shot out of the dam at a passing farmer. He wiped his face clean and looked up in time for three more such streams to appear, and then ten more, and then twenty! He rushed forward, yelling for help from the villagers nearby, and tried to plug the holes with his fingers and toes, but to no avail - as soon as they plugged one hole, five more appeared. Suddenly, the dam gave a shuddering groan and began to sag, and the people began to flee as fast as they could up the hill, where the monk and the curious looked on in horror.

With a great sigh, the dam buckled and collapsed towards the village, and the water began rushing through the streets and the homes, carrying away furniture and statues and market stalls, until the entire village was submerged. On the hill, the villagers looked down in sorrow at their lost homes, and contemplated the great cost at which they bought “just a little longer”.


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