“Daddy, why does Canada have so many comedians?” 10-year old Justin asked, one blustery winter evening.
The magic hour approached when the burden of parenthood was about to be ever so briefly lifted and some time might be spent by mom and dad alone in front of the television set.
“I have a theory about that, but it takes some explaining,” said the father, reluctant to be sidetracked.
“I have time.”
“No you don’t. I’ve just read you a bedtime story and now you need your sleep.”
“Oh alright, but I’ll tell it in the form of a parable.”
“What’s a parable?”
“Think of a parable as a fairy tale with political overtones.”
“What does that mean?”
“Let me tell the story and we’ll see if we can work it out together, okay?”
“Okay.” Justin settled under the blanket with only the top of his head showing. His bright eyes beamed expectantly upward.
“There once was a country called Ripe on a planet that went by the name Plump. Plump was a planet with many nations, some of them cheek to jowl with each other, because they were small and concentrated on certain land masses and others were large and mostly off on their own.
“Ripe was such a land. It was a huge country situated between two other nations, Mighty to the south and Many to the west. Mighty and Ripe shared a land border but Ripe and Many were separated by a wide sea.”
“Why was the country called Ripe, Daddy?”
“I could have just as easily called it Bounty, Cherry or Ample I suppose, but Ripe feels right. Let’s just say it was a land of plenty, ready for the picking.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“One unique feature about Ripe was the low number of people living within its borders. At the same time, Ripe was fortunate in having many of the items that people in other nations wanted. So Ripe was able to prosper through trade.”
“Ripe sounds like a great country. Somewhere I’d like to live.”
“Yes, well, try to pay a little more attention please, son.”
“Okay. Will do.”
“Ripe was headed at almost all levels by a group of intelligentsia known as gatekeepers. The gatekeepers liked to think it was their own smarts that kept Ripe safe, but it had mostly been luck and timing so far.
“Much of the world ran on a commodity called candy. Ripe was especially fortunate in being rich in candy. That didn’t prevent Ripe from facing some difficulties nonetheless.”
“What kind of candy?” asked Justin.
“All kinds. Chewy, gooey, hard, soft, nougaty, filled with caramel. Almost any kind you could name.”
“Ripe must have needed a lot of dentists,” added Justin.
“Funny you should say that,” noted the father. “No, the citizens of Ripe flossed a lot.”
“Daddy, I hate it when all your stories turn into lectures about my personal hygiene.”
“But son, that’s a parent’s job. I have a nasty plaque build-up and I don’t want you to have the same trouble. There’s also gingivitis and recessive gum disease to worry about.”
The father couldn’t miss the look of consternation on his son’s face. “Anyway, you’re right, we’re veering off topic.
“Where was I? Oh yes, the problem for Ripe was that its position in the world was always precarious. Who knew what Mighty and Many were likely to do? They had been benign up to this point, but things might be about to change, given that Ripe had candy and both of those nations wanted more.”
“You bet. Due to proximity – that means physical closeness – Ripe had always been aligned with Mighty. That was fortunate because whatever Mighty wanted done was pretty much what the world did for a long time. But Mighty was now facing some heavy issues of its own.
“Mighty was conflicted. It could no longer impose its will the same as previously. It was split by two viciously quarreling factions. The nation’s tendency towards violence was spilling over into all walks of life. In too many instances, the answer to violence was more violence.”
Justin perked up. “The citizens of Mighty should try knitting.”
“Yes. Mom says whenever she’s angry, she knits.”
The father nodded. “And it’s a good thing you and I have more than 20 sweaters each.
“Mighty was questioning itself. The sad part was Mighty had no real understanding of itself. Its value system was based on a cowboy mythology that was no longer helpful. Its place in the world was shifting and nobody knew where affairs were going. Plus there were changes to the make-up of the population within the country that couldn’t be stopped.
“The established order was hanging on for dear life.
“Mighty still played a big role on planet Plump but it was often distracted.”
Justin understood. “I have a friend who has a problem paying attention. He’s got a disease. I can’t remember what it’s called.”
“Is it ADS, attention deficit disorder?”
“I think so. He takes medicine for it.”
“So you know it’s not a laughing matter.
“To fill the void, many among the world’s citizens were turning to Many for leadership. Many was a nation of teeming masses. That gave the country a certain sense of inevitable destiny. It was striding towards world leadership. Many was seizing the moment.
“But Many had its own awkward situations to deal with. There was a huge difference in quality of life between the urban-born and farmers. Migrant workers from rural areas were flooding into cities to take low-paying jobs. But they weren’t being treated fairly and everybody knew it.
“As a result, and to satisfy the outside world, Many was struggling to develop a conscience. At least, it was trying to give the appearance of having one. On convenient occasions, the firmly entrenched leadership pretended it cared about the environment and its people’s welfare.
“Throughout human history, however, true morality has always worked its way up. The downtrodden and disadvantaged – through protest, riots or revolution – have forced their leaders to take more responsibility. Rarely does meaningful social change come top down.
“Many’s leadership was also grappling with another disparity. Due to government policy, there was a huge difference in the number of young men in the country versus young women. You’ll learn as you grow older, anytime there are too few females, the mood of the men folk can turn ugly.”
Justin wondered, “So what do you do when there are a lot more boys than girls?”
The father responded, “One traditional answer has been to send them off to war. Although I suppose one could also assemble a vast number of boy bands and promote concert tours.”
“What’s a boy band?”
“That’s when four or five young men are combined to sing and dance in some synchronized fashion on stage. Their popularity was an evolutionary detour in the music business that be-bopped to a dead end about the time you were born.”
“This is really interesting, Daddy.”
That made the father chuckle. “I know you’re trying to stretch out bedtime.”
“No. Honest. Tell me more.”
“In such a world, Ripe was feeling vulnerable.”
“So what could Ripe do?” asked Justin.
“Let me answer that by presenting an example closer to home. An analogy you might find useful. A ‘what-if’, as it were.”
“You’re confusing me Daddy.”
“I’m trying to untie the knots son. What do you and your friends do in your school yard when you’re confronted by a big bully?”
“That shows amazing wisdom son, but it’s not the answer I was looking for. There are several better ways to deal with the situation.”
“I know, you’ve told me before. Stand up and be a man. Confront things head on,” said Justin.
The father looked pleased. “In many cases, that is a good approach. At least you’ll earn respect. But I have to admit you’ll probably get your bell rung or your butt badly kicked. For the purposes of our present discussion, let me be more honest. Children often choose a different route.”
“Kids seem to know this instinctively. They usually form alliances. Someone smart but smaller becomes friends with someone larger and more physically adept. A protector.”
“That’s true. I can think of several examples at my school.”
The father continued, “But even then, sometimes the protector is away – maybe he’s attending a session with his psychoanalyst – and the weaker member of the duo is still vulnerable to assault. Pretend you’re that individual. What do you do then?”
“If approached and threatened, you try to distract your attacker. Maybe tell a joke or two.”
“Bingo! You have the answer to your first question.”
“Awww, now I understand.”
“So returning to our parable, this isn’t the first time Ripe has been caught between various versions of Mighty and Many. Ripe’s response has often been to provide entertainment.”
“And then wait out the problem, correct?”
The father turned sad. “Unfortunately the real world isn’t like school. One graduates from school and never has to associate with the same decency-challenged individuals again if one doesn’t want to. No, I would advocate an alternative approach for the citizens of Ripe.”
“A slightly different version of what you suggested earlier. As soon as the technology becomes available and the price comes down, I would advise the citizens of Ripe to buy tickets off Planet Plump. Say sayonara, arrivederci and bon voyage.”
“You’re kidding, right Daddy?”
“You’re being a comedian.”
“Perhaps. Now go to sleep.”
Already crossing the border into slumberland, Justin mumbled, “Daddy, will you continue to tell me parables when I grow up?”
“If I’m still here.”
Bolting upright with a worried expression, Justin cried out “Don’t ever get sick and die.”
With a twinkle in his eye and a provocative smile, the father’s answer was, “That’s not what I meant.”