Thursday, March 7, 2013

All Bark and No Bite

    Almost any time we attempt to receive some assistance from a government bureaucrat we find it to be extremely frustrating.  Instead of answering a simple question, these bureaucrats either ignore you or quote government policy which is, more often than not, very unhelpful. 

    Everyone deals with such frustrating experiences in a different way.  Some people will write a letter to the manager of the office, others will complain to their elected officials, others will simply do nothing, and some people will respond with either humor or sarcasm. 

    Frustration with bureaucracy is nothing new.  I am sure that there were many people who found the Roman government or those appointed by Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) to be very difficult to deal with when these two empires were in control of much of ‘the known world”. 

   In Russian literature, Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) expressed such frustration in his stories The Government Inspector, The Nose, The Overcoat, and Diary of a Madman.  Another Russian author, Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (1769-1844)1, expressed his frustration using fables. 

    A fable is defined as “a narration intended to enforce a useful truth; especially: one in which animals speak and act like human beings.  One such fable is “The Elephant and the Pug Dog”2.  One of the great things about using fables as a way of conveying a message is that everyone can relate to the message and people will often be able to see some character in the fable who reminds them of someone they know in real life. 

    Krylov wrote this fable as a way of dealing with his frustration regarding the bureaucracy in Moscow, but this story could just as easily be discussing two nations dealing with each other or the way that some people act when they are afraid. 

    Unlike fairy tales, fables have a “moral” which is clearly expressed at the end of the story.  A fairy tale can also have a “moral”, but it is contained within the story instead of expressed simply at the end.  One of the most famous fabulists, one who tells fables, was Aesop (c. 620-564 BC)3 of ancient Greece.  Ivan Krylov and other fabulists would borrow Aesop’s fables and then rewrite them so they would appear to be written for a particular audience or based upon a particular situation. 

    Humor can be a wonderful way of dealing with frustration since it does not produce anger and helps people to realize that what they are experiencing at that moment.  The same is true when it comes to dealing with difficult people. Being able to see someone as either an elephant or a pug dog allows one to place a given situation in its proper context.  If this person is truly acting like the pug dog, why get upset about it?  If this person is truly the elephant then no amount of anger or frustration will affect them.

                                                  End Notes

1)    “Ivan Krylov”

3)    “Aesop”

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