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Allegory of the Dam Posted by: Knight Asher at 11-04-2019 11:25 AM, Last Modified 02-19-2021 15:00 PM
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     Once there was a group of people who wanted to start their own little community. They searched until they found an area in a valley with a small river running through. While they had most everything they needed, it was clear that the river could pose a problem, as it could overflow its banks and wash away any progress they had made. So they decided to build a massive dam, in order to control the river, and tame it.

     Years went by, and the little community grew. Whereas before it had only been a fairly small group of people, now it had grown into a quaint, sizable town. The dam which stood tall was doing well at keeping the river controlled. Incidentally, the dam had caused a lake to form behind it, and thousands of gallons of water were being held back. Although a few individuals had been concerned at first about the growing reservoir forming above their heads, over the years the fears subsided. For now, all the people cared about was making sure their families had food, clothing, and shelter. The dam faded into the background, once a stark contrast to the river valley, now just a mundane background component.

     One day, a farmer was walking next to the dam, when he noticed something odd. While there was a spillway to let free some water from behind the dam, water now seemed to be leaking from what was supposed to be a solid section of the wall. Concerned, he hurried to the town hall, and called a meeting. “We must do something,” he cried out to the crowd, “Our lives are at risk! If we do nothing, we’ll all be swept away!” The crowd mumbled amongst themselves, and a banker spoke up. “Why, it’s just a tiny spill. Gallons more come from the spillway every second! This is all just a massive overreaction, we should stop this nonsense and get on with our lives.” Some in the crowd agreed with him, but there were others who were also concerned.

     A housewife stood up, “If what he says is true, then this problem may get worse with time. My house is right next to the dam! Even if it is an overreaction, I think we should look into this.” There was more murmuring from the crowd. No one was quite sure of what should be done. One of the builders of the dam was next to speak, “I agree, we should do something. I believe we should examine the entire dam, and asses the true extent of this problem. We will need many volunteers to do the required work. However, I must warn everyone, this will probably take a great deal of time and manpower.” After some discussions in the crowd, a few people decided to volunteer. While it was far from the majority of the town, it was enough to complete the work in a reasonable amount of time. And so, they got to work, scrutinizing the entire construction for any more signs of weakness or irregularities.

     After they had finished, once more a town meeting was called, to discuss the results of the survey. The builder stood at the steps, and announced his findings to all the citizens. “We have concluded our investigations, and what we have found is quite troubling. The damage the farmer reported is much more severe than we imagined, and there are several other instances of apparent weakness in the structure. More worrying, is that it shows no signs of stopping.” There were gasps in the audience, and everyone grew alarmed. Several people began shouting, but the builder was quick to restore order. “Fortunately, there are things we can do to repair the damage and keep it from getting worse.” Several people breathed sighs of relief. One individual still had a concern, “So, how long will this work take?” The builder looked through his notes, and did some calculations. He sighed deeply before responding, “I’m afraid that due to the ever present threat of a complete failure, this type of work can never end.” Once again the crowd was riled, with various people disagreeing over what should be done.

     The crowd was bickering over where the resources should come from, who should do the work, and whether or not it was a worthwhile endeavor. Several people declared that they would not be able to help, as they had other priorities. “I can’t do much, I have to work to feed my kids!” “Your kids won’t get to eat if we’re all drowned!” “What’s the point of fixing the damn thing if it’ll only need fixing again?” The builder heard all their complaints, and considered each one. Eventually, he’d heard enough. “Silence, everyone please! There is no need to panic yet. Yes, those who end up fixing the dam will probably only be able to do that for the rest of their lives. Yes, not everyone will be able to help as we need people to keep the town going. However, not everyone needs to.”

     The crowd looked on, in confusion. “What do you mean?” one person asked. “What I mean is while there is a lot of work to do, so long as whoever does it works hard and dedicates themselves, we can get away with only a few people having to do the work.” This seemed to satisfy a few people, but yet others were unconvinced. “So they will have to sacrifice themselves, their entire lives, their entire prospects, just to delay the inevitable? And just who would be so willing, so insane, to do that?” asked one man. A few people gave cheers of support, but the builder held up his hand. “Yes, they will have to sacrifice their lives, as you say, but they do so so that no one else has to. And while we could force people to do so, I’m sure we’ll simply just risk them neglecting their task and bringing ruin to us all. So we’ll need to get volunteers, and as for who would be so insane as to do so,” he paused, giving some thought to the matter, and continued, “I for one, must be. For I do not care if any of you decide to, as I will give up my life regardless. I will stand alone if I have to, because I see all that we have built, and all that we have accomplished. I will not let all that be washed away when I can do something to stop it, so I shall.”

     The crowd was in a stunned silence. No one knew what to say in the face of such courage, such dedication and realistically, such foolishness. Surely one single man would not be enough to stand against the tons of water threatening to flood their small town. And so a few people joined the builder, each from all walks of life, and of all ages. “We will join you,” they said, “We will give up our lives, however long or short they may be, so that our town may know peace.” Now the crowd erupted into applause, and cheering. Now, it seemed, they actually had a chance. And now, they were able to come up with a plan.

     The people who had volunteered to care for the dam set up a living quarters on the dam itself. From the farmers, they learned how to grow their own food. From the bakers, they learned to bake breads. From the carpenters and masons they learned how to build scaffolding, and to repair the damage in the dam. From the blacksmiths, they learned to make the tools and equipment they required. From the doctors, they learned how to tend to any wounds they might get. And from the librarians, they learned how to catalog and record the condition of the dam, and any repairs that needed to be done or had been done.

     And so, for decades, they lived apart from the town, not living for themselves, but for their fellow townsmen, working hard, day and night to ensure the safety of everyone. As the years passed, once again, the people forgot the threat that loomed over their heads. For a while, they regarded the repairmen as heroes, but as time passed, they too faded away. They stood apart from society, constantly toiling; it mattered not if there was a political scandal or if there was famine. They did not benefit from bountiful harvests, or lowered tax rates. A few individuals would occasionally leave the town and join their efforts, replacing those who had perished, whether due to duty or age.

     Although the townspeople had found a solution to their problems, it was not without its drawbacks. For one, should there be no more repairmen, the dam would begin to crumble once more, eventually leading to ruin. Another was that the ordinary citizen knew not of the threat, despite it looming constantly overhead, for decades and decades of peaceful living had resulted in complacency. But the people of the dam cared not for these issues, for they had their duty. They desired to see their town continue on, forever calm, so long as they never failed. And they knew that so long as one of them remained, from now unto forever, they would keep working, inspecting and repairing the dam, fighting to maintain everyone’s way of life, and ensuring peace and prosperity in the town.......

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