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Certainly We Can but Probably We Won’t

How it happened is less interesting than that it happened, so let’s just say that I stumbled upon a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon on television.

For those not accustomed to watching cartoons on television (or admitting to the same), Tom and Jerry are a cat and a mouse respectively, and this particular “Tom and Jerry” cartoon included a third participant, Butch, a dog … a big dog with sharp teeth, presumably of the male sort with mammoth muscles and a spiky collar.

As the story opens, the tribal impulse so evident in their (superior) human counterparts was alive and well among Tom, Jerry, and Butch. Suddenly, unexpectedly, Butch asks Tom and Jerry why they are behaving like they are, which is to say, after what appears to be the way of the world. Why not live in peace, he asks?

Why not, indeed! And before Jerry can clobber Tom with a giant mallet yet one more time, they sign a peace pact.

And it works! Great friends they are:  they watch out for each other, tend to each other, and protect each other from the world around them.

Then one day (we just knew that day was coming), a package falls out of a delivery van on the street in front of the three bosom buddies. They unwrap it and find a huge piece of meat. It’s a veritable feast, enough to feed all three for days.

Butch takes charge of dividing it among the three friends, and he does a pretty good job (weight of each piece adjusted to body size) … except that Jerry is unhappy with the results and proposes a revision … which meets with neither Tom’s nor Butch’s approval. Improvements on the revisions start flying and pretty soon they are fighting over the big slab of meat which somehow ends up in the gutter where it floats down the storm drain and is gone. In the end, the three friends have recovered their tribal impulses and return to their normal lives.

Call it art (cartoon art, but art nonetheless) imitating life. After all, we do live in a world where there is enough to go around—we just can’t agree on what constitutes “enough” and for whom. Of course, we want peace (doesn’t everybody?), and naturally we recognize that peace requires justice, but if we have our hands on a big, juicy steak, the whole peace-with-justice enterprise suddenly gets very personal.

And complicated, for we are a global community of several thousand nations crammed into a few hundred countries in various states of (under-, over-) development. We are in need of the voice of reason, a large measure of justice, and a new way of life for dogs, cats, and mice, not to mention their (superior) humans.

2 thoughts on “Certainly We Can but Probably We Won’t”

  1. Enough indeed! So who does constitute what is enough. What is enough for me may not be what is enough for you. Probably why communism doesn’t work well. I don’t have the answer and maybe no one does. Rather than enough perhaps we should look at the word “share.” If I have some meat and you don’t, I should share. Perhaps justice in the case of “enough” really means realizing we are our brothers keepers no matter what.

  2. Thanks for bringing us a wise insight that goes to our very nature. Many religious traditions have insights and disciplines to free us from the sins at the heart of this treadmill. One of my favorites is from the Jain texts as revealed by the editor Ragan Iyer in Self Purification: The Jain path to freedom.

    “Arya Shayambhava declares that the Law has three elements: ahimsa (non-violence), samyama (restraint) and tapas (austerity)… If these three are taken together as aspects of the single law of spiritual life, they mutually imply one another.” A great example of mutuality to live well is the bee which gathers the pollen it needs without burdening the flowers.

    Tom, Jerry and Butch teach us this simple truth that there is plenty for our need, but not for our greed. Conflating need and greed yields suffering and less for all. Thanks for reminding us.

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