There is a mass of people standing on one side of a shallow, muddy river. It is a wide gap between two lands. On this side, things aren’t that great. Grass doesn’t grow, fruit trees die, and cattle starve. Everyone wants to cross the river, since the other side offers grass, amazing fruit trees, and healthy cattle for milk and meat. Sometimes honey flows from the trees.
There was once a bridge over this river, but much of it was washed away in some ancient flood. Now the bridge only extends a few feet on either side. Some time ago, someone fashioned a rope from one edge of the broken bridge to the other. However, only a few people at a time can use the rope, and only if they are strong.
The rest of the people wanting to cross to the other side must climb down the side of the river and wade through the shallow dirty waters and mud. If they are successful in crossing, they emerge covered in mud and dirt, but they get to have a better life.
There are some on this side, however, who do not want to make the effort to cross. Rather, they believe that someone should carry them to the other side. They don’t want to get wet, muddy, or dirty. They are angry at the strong people who can use the rope; it is too hard a task for most people.
Still, thousands climb down into the filth every day to try to make it to the other side. Few ever make it: most turn back; some stop in the middle of the river and build shacks. These people believe they have it good, though they are always halfway there. They can see the edge of the other side, but never really get there.
Now along come some politicians, who need votes. They see this daily struggle to cross the river and call it “inequitable” or “unfair.” Those in need, need politicians; so politicians see an opportunity. But that opportunity can only exist if the people remain in a state of need. If they are no longer in need, they no longer need politicians.
So the politicians tell the people they are being oppressed by the strong, who can use the rope to cross the bridge. Some call for a tax on those who can cross the bridge; others want to put spikes on the rope to slow down those who cross, in order to protect those in the middle.
The politicians tell the people that those crossing the rope are going to cause a flood that will wipe away the people in the middle, and make it impossible for the others to cross.
Some of the strong feel bad for those who cannot cross. So they build ladders on the other side and drop those ladders over the side of the embankment to make it easier for those in the middle to climb up to the top of the other side.
The politicians scoff at this and call it condescending. They say it is an insult to those who wish to cross and leaves out those who don’t wish to cross, so they demand the ladders be removed. They tell the people the ladders are an illusion, set up to make people think they have a chance to get out of the mud and into the other side.
The ladders are unsafe; they dig into the soil and make it easier to erode the river, making floods more dangerous. Thus, they must be removed.
As the politicians continue to repeat their gospel of need, the masses turn into their faithful followers and demand that the rope be taxed and fitted with spikes. Some even demand that the rope be cut. This way, everyone will be equal, and life will be fair.
At one rally, an especially arrogant but foolish politician stands in the middle of the muddy river and demands, “what is there on the other side that we need?”
“Nothing!” he responds to his own question; “we have all that we need here in the river bed; we have water and soil for planting. We do not need the other side. Let’s all gather together at the bottom of the river and rejoice in the mud and sewage!”
Thus, the politicians cut the rope and regulate a path for all, so that they all find a way into the muddiest part of the river and wander through the river bed to no end. Everyone is in misery, but are told they are happy. Those who complain are called traitors and greedy.
One day, a young man with a thoughtful gaze comes upon this edge of the river. He looks down at the muck and the people covered in their own filth, who have no way to escape since they are all required to stay in the river bed. He looks at the remnants of the bridge and back at the people.
He then turns to the politicians and asks: “Why not just fix the bridge so that everyone can cross? If we work together, we can fix this bridge; all can cross; and no one has to live in the mud anymore.”
The politicians, enraged that someone has seen through their lies scream back, “he wants to enslave all of you! He wants to force you to work against your will! He wants to take from you the fruits of your labor and remove you from your homes by force! Arrest him!”
The young man runs away, fearing for his life. Yet some people hear him and follow as he runs up the river away from the politicians and their muddy followers.
The small group of followers catch up with the young man a few miles up stream and ask him: “Is there any way we can build the bridge with you?” And so, with only a few hands and some time, the followers build a small wooden bridge and together they cross the muddy river to the other side.
The followers, no longer needing to follow any leader, live happily ever after.