This post is longer than usual. It is a short story/fable I wrote inspired by my #ShePersisted series.
Stirring the pot to stir up change.
A fable by Louise Gallagher
©2017 Louise Gallagher
Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to change the world. The world was a pretty big place which was kind of scary, so she kept doing the little things she knew she could do to make her own little world a better place.
One day, while walking to work at the Ivory Tower where every day she did what she was paid to do to keep the wheels of commerce turning, she met a man who asked for some loose change. “I’m hungry and have no money to buy a bowl of soup,” he told her.
“I’m not allowed to carry loose change,” she told him. “My bosses only like to deal in millions of dollars and it makes them nervous to hear the jingling of small coins.”
She wanted to do what she could to help him though and promised to meet him in the same spot the next day. “I’ll bring you a bowl of soup,” she told him.
And that’s what she did. The next day, and then the next and the next until one day, the man brought a friend to share in the bowl of soup. A few days later, a third man joined them and the number of people trying to share the one bowl of soup grew.
Eventually, the girl realized that one bowl of soup was not big enough to feed all the people who kept turning up. She decided to make a great big pot and bring it down to the street. And the people kept coming and she kept making soup until she realized, she had to do something different.
She didn’t feel a lot of satisfaction counting money and pushing paper. She decided to quit her job. There were so many people clamouring for her soup, she decided the time was now to find a space to make soup close to where the people were so nobody had to travel too far to fill their bellies.
The girl pooled all her money, posted a CrowdFund site on the internet and asked her friends for help. Everyone pitched in until she had enough to get a great big room with a great big kitchen in a building that stood all by itself on a side street near the great big Ivory Towers where once she’d worked.
Every day she’d go to her soup kitchen and make great big pots of soup to feed the people who kept turning up. They said it felt like home. They said, ‘Thank you’, and offered to help make the soup and serve it and clean up every day.
It worked well. Everyone contributed what they could and she felt good about what she was doing. So did her friends who’d helped raise the funds for her soup kitchen. They couldn’t always take time out from work to help her make soup, but they always made sure she had enough money to buy the ingredients she needed to make a wholesome meal for the people who needed it.
She was doing her bit to change the world, one bowl of soup at a time.
One night, just before the lights went out in her soup kitchen, the girl noticed a man curled up under a table sleeping. “You can’t sleep here. It’s against the rules,” she told him.
“Then where am I supposed to sleep?” the man asked.
“Why don’t you go home?”
He laughed and said, “I don’t have a home to go to.”
“Oh. What happened to your home?” she asked the man.
He told her the story of how his job was made redundant when a robot took over what he did. “I couldn’t afford the rent on my apartment ‘cause the boom kept pushing the cost higher. And I couldn’t find work because I never had a chance to finish high school after my dad died and I had to get a job to help my mother take care of my brothers and sisters.”
The girl was surprised by what had happened to him and started asking everyone who came to the soup kitchen if they had a home.
Lots of them didn’t.
She didn’t think that was right and decided to go see The Powers That Be to make them change the rules for her soup kitchen so the man, and all the others who came to eat soup and didn’t have a home to go to, could sleep on the floor at night.
She travelled to the Seat of Government and told the elected Powers That Be her big idea. The Powers That Be really liked it. They’d received lots of complaints from other citizens about the people without a home wandering the streets and asking strangers for money. The Powers That Be didn’t like complaints, especially when they piled up just before an election. The girl and her soup kitchen, that also had a floor to sleep on, was the answer to their prayers.
And so it went. Year after year. She kept changing the world with bowls of soup and a warm place for people to sleep on the floor at night.
And all around her, people kept going to work and businesses kept humming along as the wheels of commerce kept turning and the Ivory Towers kept growing taller.
One day, a man in a black silk suit looked way down at the street far below his eerie at the top of his Ivory Tower and noticed all the people lining up outside the girl’s soup kitchen. He called his assistant to his side and asked , “Do you know what dwelling that is yonder and why so many people are lining up outside its door?”
“Yes sire,” his assistant said. “It’s a soup kitchen.”
The man in the Ivory Tower had never heard of such a thing and called his cronies together from all the Ivory Towers around him to find out if anyone else had heard of a ‘soup kitchen’.
Nobody had. But one man, an economist, informed them that a soup kitchen fell into the fiscal category of Not Good for Business. “I understand from my assistant that it attracts people of dubious background. He tells me they are all poor.”
As one voice the gathering of men from the Ivory Towers rejected the idea of poor people on their streets. Poor people will bring down our credit ratings and the value of our realm, they declared.
Something had to be done.
They made a plan on how to conquer the problem of the people on the street. They would go see the Powers That Be, the ones they had elected into the Seat of Government. It was their job to take care of the poor people. They would force them to do it.
Together, as one voice, the men from the Ivory Towers went to the Seat of Government and demanded the Powers That Be fix the problem of the poor people on their streets. It’s Not Good for Business, they told them.
The Powers That Be told them that they needed to pay more taxes if they wanted to fix the problem because they did not have enough money to fix the problem..
The men in the Ivory Towers did not like that solution. They left the Seat of Government vowing to find a better way.
After lots of gathering and ruminating over their thoughts and much pounding of fists on tables and counting from on high the people lining their streets and number crunching and filling in the boxes of profit and loss, they determined that the girl and her soup kitchen was the root of the cause of the poor people on the streets. Without her, they wouldn’t be lining up for soup. She was The Problem.
Determined to wrestle the problem into submission, the men from the Ivory Towers gathered en masse to take matters into their own hands.
They donned their cashmere winter coats over their $3,000 silk suits. They entered their gilded elevators and rode down to street level. Their assistants scurried before them, stopping traffic so they could cross the street safely, sweeping aside the people asking for handouts and clearing the way to the building where the girl and her soup kitchen operated. As they walked towards its doors, their assistants used their bodies to shield their bosses from the people who stood in line, and one rushed forward to open the doors so that the men from the Ivory Towers could sweep into the soup kitchen like a covey of crows descending upon road kill.
A gust of cold air preceded them as they entered, but the room remained warm and cozy. The men in their cashmere coats did not notice it. They were on a mission. They marched as one body towards the girl who stood in front of a great big stove, stirring a great big pot of soup.
“Welcome,” she greeted them, smiling sweetly as they jostled for position in front of her. “If you would like a bowl of soup, you’ll have to wait your turn. It’s only fair. Others have been standing out in the cold much longer than you.”
“We don’t have time to stand around, and we definitely don’t need your soup,” they proclaimed, ignoring her suggestion they wait their turn. Their assistants busied themselves laying out upon the kitchen counter top the reams of paper they’d prepared with their pretty coloured graphs and balance sheets and profit and loss statements.
They pointed to the bottom line, “Look. Here’s the evidence. It doesn’t lie. Your soup kitchen is Not Good for Business. You run it. You are The Problem. Because you’re here, people are lining up outside your doors. They don’t look like us. They look poor and that’s not good. It’s not good for our businesses nor the people who make the wheels of our businesses turn. It makes our city look bad and it scares the tourists away. You have to stop making soup.”
The girl didn’t know much about balance sheets and profit margins, but she did know that what she was doing was changing the world, a bowl of soup at a time. She showed the men from the Ivory Towers the people sitting at the tables quietly eating their soup. “Who will feed all these hungry people if I stop?” she asked.
The men from the Ivory Towers looked around the room. They hadn’t noticed the people when they’d first entered on their mission to fix The Problem. Looking down their noses at the huddled masses, they were surprised to see how many people were gathered in the room, eating soup.
“These people are not contributing to the Greater Good,” the men from the Ivory Towers proclaimed. “All they’re doing is sitting around eating soup and bleeding our city dry.”
“They can’t contribute to the greater good if they’re always battling the greater issues of being poor,” she said as she slowly continued to stir a great big pot of soup.
The men from the Ivory Towers were not moved by her emotional appeal. It’s just a sob story, they muttered amongst themselves. She’s trying to sway us from the facts with her bleeding heart.
They pounded their fists on the closest table. “If their issue is being poor they need to get a job!” they told her.
“And how do they do that?” she asked, gripping the ladle in her hands a little bit tighter and moving it around the pot with a little more force. “You won’t hire them because they’re poor and even when you do, you don’t pay them a living wage because you’re always more concerned with balancing your bottom line.” She stopped stirring for a moment, looked each of them in the eyes before adding. “And without a job, how can they afford food on the tables they don’t have and a place to call home they can’t pay for?”
The men from the Ivory Towers were growing frustrated with the girl and her bleeding heart. “Be quiet and listen to us. We know what we’re doing,” they told her. “The problem isn’t whether or not these people have jobs. There’s lots of jobs around if they’re willing to work. The problem is you keep making soup and that keeps them coming back. You have to stop.”
“But isn’t that good business?” the girl asked, innocently enough, as she continued stirring the pot of soup at a more measured pace. “Don’t you call it supply and demand? I’m simply responding to their need for food and shelter. What are you doing?”
The men from the Ivory Towers puffed up their chests and huffed loudly through their noses. “We are keeping the wheels of commerce turning and building empires and taking care of the little people who keep our Ivory Towers growing higher.” And they pounded the closest table again, just to make their point.
“Please don’t pound the table,” the girl told them. “You’re scaring my guests.”
“Your guests are not our problem!” the men yelled loudly. “You and your soup kitchen are The Problem. You have to stop making soup so people will stop lining up on our streets and scaring people on their way to work.”
And the men from the Ivory Towers kept pounding on the table, telling her to stop.
And the people kept lining up for soup and a place to call home.
And the girl persisted. She kept stirring the pot and doing what she could to change the world.
The moral of the story is: You can’t change the world if you don’t stir the pot.