Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tiger and the Lamb: A Fable about (Not?) Keeping the Peace

"The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.” -Edwin Friedman

The story below is from a book called Friedman's Fables. Edwin Friedman is one of my favorite authors regarding issues of family and systems dynamics. He was a beloved Rabbi, therapist, and author. He often has counter-intuitive insights for getting outside of a group's emotional regressive patterns. He promoted nurturing your own challenging, paradoxical, non-anxious presence. What lessons do you glean from this story. Please include a response because frankly I am a little confused...
The Friendly Forest

Once upon a time in the Friendly Forest there lived a lamb who loved to graze and frolic about. One day a tiger came to the forest and said to the animals, "I would like to live among you." There were delighted. For, unlike some of the other forests, they had no tiger in their woods. The lamb, however, had some apprehensions, which, being a lamb, she sheepishly expressed to her friends. But, said they, "Do not worry, we will talk to the tiger and explain that one of the conditions for living in this forest is that you must also let the other animals live in the forest."

So the lamb went about her life as usual. But it was not long before the tiger began to growl and make threatening gestures and menacing motions. Each time the frightened lamb went to her friends and said, "It is very uncomfortable for me here in the forest." But her friends reassured her, "Do not worry; that's just the way tigers behave."

Every day, as she went about her life, the lamb tried to remember this advice, hoping that the tiger would find someone else to growl at. And it is probably correct to say that the tiger did not really spend all or even most of its time stalking the lamb. Still, the lamb found it increasingly difficult to remove the tiger from her thoughts. Sometimes she would just catch it out of the corner of her eye, but that seemed enough to disconcert her for the day, even if the cat were asleep. Soon the lamb found that she was actually looking for the tiger. Sometimes days or even weeks went by between its intrusive actions, yet, somehow, the tiger had succeeded in always being there. Eventually the tiger's existence became a part of the lamb's existence. When she tried to explain this to her friends, however, they pointed out that no harm had really befallen her and that perhaps she was just being too sensitive.

So the lamb again tried to put the tiger out of her mind. "Why," she said to herself, "should I let my relationship with just one member of the forest ruin my relationships with all the others?" But every now and then, usually when she was least prepared, the tiger would give her another start.

Finally the lamb could not take it anymore. She decided that, much as she loved the forest and her friends, more than she had ever loved any other forest or friends, the cost was too great. So she went to the other animals in the woods and said good-bye.

Her friends would not hear of it, "This is silly," they said, "Nothing has happened. You are still in one piece. You must remember that a tiger is a tiger." they repeated. "Surely this is the nicest forest in the world. We really like you very much. We would be very sad if you left." (Though it must be admitted that several of the animals were wondering what the lamb might be doing to contribute to the tiger's aggressiveness.)

Then said two of the animals in the Friendly Forest, "Surely this whole thing can be worked out. We're all reasonable here. Stay calm. There is probably just some misunderstanding that can easily be resolved if we all sit down together and communicate." The lamb, however, had several misgivings about such a meeting. First of all, if her friends had explained away the tiger's behavior by saying it was simply a tiger's nature to behave that way, why did they now think that as a result of communication the tiger would be able to change that nature? Second, thought the lamb, such meetings, well intentioned as they might be, usually try to resolve problems through compromise. Now, while the tiger might agree to growl less, and indeed might succeed in reducing some of its aggressive behavior, what would she, the lamb, be expected to give up in return? Be more accepting of the tiger's growling? There was something wrong, thought the lamb, with the notion that an agreement is equal if the invasive creature agrees to be less invasive and the invaded one agrees to tolerate some invasivenss. She tried to explain this to her friends but, being reasonable animals, they assured her that the important thing was to keep communicating. Perhaps the tiger didn't understand the ways of the lamb. "Don't be so sheepish," they said. "Speak up strongly when it does these things."

Though one of the less subtle animals in the forest, more uncouth in expression and unconcerned about just who remained, was overheard to remark, "I never heard of anything so ridiculous. If you want a lamb and a tiger to live in the same forest, you don't try to make them communicate. You cage the bloody tiger."

What do you think?


  1. That's really interesting. It actually reminded me of this book I read about a (fictional) school shooting, specifically a scene from the eventual shooter's childhood: the boy is being bullied at school and his mother's response is that if he doesn't start sticking up for himself, she's going to punish him. I think a lot of people have a tendency to blame the victim, at least in part. Even if it's in the form of a compromise, where they give half of the blame for a conflict to the bully for starting it and half to the bullied for not ending it. Which is still victim-blaming.

  2. I'll admit that while I was reading the whole thing, in the back of my mind I was thinking that this was a ploy of the Tiger to get the lamb to move, so then it could eat it. I don't know how much insight I can draw from it. It would seem to me that if the Tiger did anything and ate the sheep the others wouldn't do much more than banish the Tiger. If it ate something other than the sheep, I think the sheep would spearhead a revolt and maybe even (try to) kill the Tiger in the middle of night. I really don't know what to take from it though. I have two conflicting ideas, that a)the sheep was just being paranoid and should trust the tiger more or b)the sheep realizes that this is a predator and needs to eat something, why not a sheep? And its desperately trying to communicate this to its friends who won't hear of it since, the Tiger hasn't done anything bad yet...so why should it in the future?
    I would love to hear other peoples insight, since I don't have much to offer!

  3. I think a part of the key to understanding the Fable is to know that Friedman the Fable-teller is a student of group dynamics, and is often trying to debunk myths about how groups normally operate and we call it "wisdom."

    Great thoughts and insights Justin and Leah.

  4. so i must agree somewhat with Justin i was reading this and i thought it was going to and with the sheep moving out of the forest. and then the tiger eats the sheep. b/c she isn't in the same forest kinda like a trap. so thats what i was thinking was going to happen but i can also see a relationship to our lives (well mine). im going to put this into a perspective. we all have our core group of friends. that were close to through high school ect. and then our friends start to branch out to others and in my experience there are many people that my friends have branched out to that i like but then there are others (ones we don't like or get along with and this could be for many reasons). looking at it that way there are people in my life like that tiger yet my other friends find them fine. i personally have to decide what it is i allow and don't allow. some times i think we need to be more out there and tell our true friends that "hey we don't like this and stick up for whats right" for example maybe i view a party pot smoking rude guy as the "tiger" but my friends see nothing wrong with it hes not hurting me (the sheep) so big deal right?? well i can think of many instances were we are like sheep and don't stick up for whats right. i also see many instances where we can be like all the other rain forest animals were we don't care it doesn't affect us. i feel i find myself personally being the sheep... and allot of friends being the others (not caring b/c its not hurting anyone directly) so thats my to bits about what i think this story is about.. and i think we as followers of Christ need to separate ourselves from the worldly. (we can outreach yes! but far to often we just are there in the mix of things for no reason at all or just to have fun.... its not healthy for us spiritually)we should try and surround ourselves with others that have the same values morals and beliefs in Christ Jesus.

  5. Seems like it is a fable about how our social systems usually work...and that they are not very effective. The victim keeps getting victimized, poor behavior is justified, real transformation seems impossible. So people have to withdraw to keep their sanity.