Once upon a time, a large group of prominent citizens met to discuss their concerns about recent usurpations and other abuses by their government as well as what should be done about them. As is true of any political gathering, there were in this group many who thought that the government was only fulfilling it’s responsibility to take care of its citizens. They were opposed, of course, by those who thought that the government needed to be reined in. The two factions went back and forth in this manner for an hour or more with neither side seeming to gain any ground.
The chairman was wondering what he might do to keep the meeting from degenerating into a complete waste of time for all involved when he noticed an old man sitting quietly in the front row. His clothes, while neat, were seedy and threadbare, and his lined face revealed the debt that time exacts from us all. He sort of slouched forward in his chair with his hands resting, one atop the other, upon the head of his walking cane. A sudden thought came to the chairman, and he held up his hands to quiet the crowd.
“My friends,” he began, “I see that we have a gentleman here who has the advantage of the kind of wisdom that only many years of living can bring. Why don’t we ask him to give us the benefit of his thoughts?”
The chairman did not know the old man and so had no idea if he had a lick of sense or not, but he felt the need to do something, and nothing else came to mind.
“Sir,” he addressed the old man, “would you mind coming to the podium and giving us your opinion regarding our current state of affairs?”
Several in the audience encouraged the old man to do so, and so he began the arduous task of getting to his feet and then shuffling, aided by his cane, over to the podium where the chairman had stepped aside. When he got to the podium, he began to speak in a thin, quiet voice weakened by age.
“May I tell you a story?” the old man began and then paused momentarily, and people throughout the room hushed their whispering and leaned forward in their seats in order to be able to hear him better.
Then, the old man continued without waiting for permission, “Many years ago, at a time when towns and villages were not nearly so numerous as today, with great distances one to another, there was a very small village in a very small country that had a very big problem. There was a legend, you see, that a great marauding giant would one day come along and destroy the village, killing and eating every living thing within it. The villagers knew that the legend was not just a myth for a very simple reason — they could actually see the giant. It so happened that the little village stood upon a hill at the edge of a large plain that was about five miles long, and, even considering the curvature of the earth, anyone using a telescope of even modest power could clearly see the giant standing at the far edge of the plain. Day after day, year after year, the giant just appeared to be standing there, yet, according to the legend, he would one day move into the village and destroy it.
“Now, destroying the village was the giant’s destiny, but, because of some naughty thing or other that he had done earlier in his life, he had been saddled with a curse. The curse was to be frozen like a huge piece of granite, so that all he could move were his eyes and his toes, and, furthermore, that he could advance no more than one foot per day toward the village. So, every night at midnight, the giant would stretch forth his toes and pull himself forward by one foot. Exactly one. No more. No less.
“Not that he didn’t try to go farther than a foot. He always did, but the curse was too strong, and one foot was always the result. Exactly one. No more. No less.
“Now, the giant knew that, once he actually made it to the village, the curse would end, and he would then regain his complete freedom of motion and become able to go about his normal business of destroying the village and murdering and eating its inhabitants. Many years had passed since the laying of the curse, and the giant had developed a huge and voracious appetite. He was very much looking forward to the day when he would feast upon the flesh and bones of the villagers. For now, though, it was just one foot per day. Exactly one. No more. No less.
“The villagers were so afraid of the legend and wary of the giant that they posted a sentinel upon a high point at the edge of the village. Every day, all day long, day in and day out, week end and week out, year in and year out, the current sentinel stood his post and watched the giant.
“At the end of each day, the mayor of the little village would come to him and ask, ‘Does the giant come?’, and, since the giant always looked as if he were standing exactly as the day before, the answer was always no. At the rate of one foot per day, it would take the giant a little over seventy-two years to make it all the way to the village, but he didn’t care. Destroying the village was what he was meant to do, and, however long it took, he was going to complete that journey. Besides, he was hungry. So very, very hungry.
“And so, the years came and went, as did mayors and sentinels, and, at the end of every day, the question and answer were always the same. This went on for thirty-six years. Now, after thirty-six years, the giant had actually covered about half the distance to the village, yet the villagers were oblivious to this fact and were completely possessed of the idea that the giant stood exactly where he had stood thirty-six years before. The trouble was, you see, that there was no longer anyone around who remembered where the giant had been at first. So, as far as anyone knew, the giant was exactly where he had been thirty-six years before and had not moved at all.”
The old man paused to get his breath, since speaking so much was making him weary. The chairman offered him a glass of water, for which he was politely thanked. The old man lifted the glass with an unsteady hand and drank and then, somewhat refreshed by the cool water, he continued.
“In the thirty-seventh year of watching the giant, it happened that a mayor was elected who was a very smart man. In previous years, the sentinels had always been soldiers, but the new mayor changed that. Instead of a soldier, he placed a surveyor in the guard’s post at the edge of the village. Some of the villagers laughed at what they thought was a bone-headed move, others were concerned about the expense of hiring a professional man, while still others just scratched their heads and wondered what the mayor was up to. Well, the surveyor set up his high-powered transit, aimed it at the giant, and began taking precise measurements of the giant’s position while making careful observations regarding the giant’s proximity to certain boulders, small trees, or other landmarks.
“All day long the surveyor measured this and measured that as he watched the giant, and, at the end of the day, the mayor came to him and asked, ‘Does the giant come?’
” ‘Ask me again,’ came the reply, ‘at the end of the week, and do not ask again sooner.’
“So, the mayor did as the surveyor had requested and did not go back to him until the end of the week. When that time came, the mayor went once again to the surveyor. ‘Does the giant come?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ replied the surveyor, ‘the giant comes.’ ‘Are you sure?’ asked the mayor, visibly startled, his brow furrowed with worry. ‘I am sure.’ said the surveyor, ‘The giant comes. Each day this week, he has advanced toward the village by one foot. Exactly one. No more. No less. The giant comes very, very slowly, but he comes.’
“And so, since the village possessed, in the surveyor, the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to determine that the giant was, in fact, coming, and how fast he was coming, they were able to correctly deduce that he must not be able to come any faster, along with the probable reason why, and then develop a plan to kill him and save the village. But what, I might ask, would have happened if there had been no person with the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to be a surveyor? Or, if there had not come along a mayor with the wisdom to place the surveyor in the sentinel’s post? How, then, would the people of the village have been able to see that the giant was, in fact, coming?
“My friends, I must report to you that our giant has come. He is a deceitful fellow and goes by many names, including Collectivism, Progressivism, and Socialismi. He stands today at the very gate to our shining city on the hill and awaits only the opportunity to take that final step which will put him amongst us. Then, his victory will be complete, and the beacon that has shone the way to liberty for all people everywhere for more than two centuries will go dark. And darkness is what we will deserve, for we will have done more than just allow it to happen — we will have caused it to happen. To descend from a world of light into one of darkness, if not an adequate punishment, is a fitting punishment, and history teaches the hard lesson that the light will not return during the lifetimes of those who caused it to become extinguished. Nor should it.”
Every eye in the room was now upon the old man. Not a sound could be heard other than the old man’s voice.
“However, all is not yet lost, for we have advantages that the little village did not. While none of us may remember when the giant stood at the far edge of the plain, we have the benefit of the writings of those who did. It is not necessary that we have the skills of a surveyor. It is only necessary that we be curious, that we indulge that curiosity, and that we seek the truth, and that brings us to the other advantage that we enjoy over the little village. Our giant cannot exist within the purifying light of truth.
“As can be said of many things of great value, however, the truth rarely comes to us easily. When it does come, it is invariably accompanied by many impostors, pretenders, and charlatans who would have us believe that they are truth’s chosen messengers, and it is only when we view them through the lenses of history and knowledge that we can easily see what is real and what is not. To those ignorant of history, truth can be an elusive shade, but, fortunately, the cure for our myopia can be had but for the asking.
“The task before us is not a difficult one, and we possess all of the tools necessary to accomplish it, yet it is not at all clear whether we are up to it, and, if we are, whether we will. I leave you, therefore, with these questions: Are we? Will we?”
Those were the old man’s final words, and then, steadied by his cane, he shuffled slowly away from the podium and out of a nearby door, leaving the chairman standing alone and quiet at the podium. The only sound heard was the door closing softly behind the old man, and, afterward, there was only silence. Within the room, there was no rustling, no scraping of chairs, and no whispering for what seemed like a long time.
Then, slowly, quietly, there began to be heard murmuring here and there in the crowd. Gradually, more and more joined in, and the murmuring became louder and then became speaking. Before long, there was the rumble of excited conversation throughout the room. People were obviously moved and inspired by what the old man had said. One allowed as how he agreed with all that the old man had said and wondered aloud why he had not already thought of it. Another said that the old man had been exactly on the money, and many who heard nodded their heads in agreement. One rather sensitive sort of fellow said that the old man had moved him nearly to tears. Not quite, but nearly.
After a while, the chairman declared the meeting adjourned, feeling inwardly very proud that it had been his idea to ask the old man to speak. Within the room, the din of conversation started to subside, and then the crowd began to disburse. By and by, each left and went to his own home and then set about doing exactly the same things that he had been doing for the past days…and weeks…and months…and years. Each went on complaining to the others about matters like high fuel prices, confiscatory taxes, crushing regulations, and increasing inflation, but did little more.
Nothing had changed. Nothing would change. And then the giant took the final step.