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Volume 9, Issue 4: Similitudes

The Bull in the Field

Douglas Wilson

Two men walked along a country road together until they came to a fence which enclosed a large pasture. It was a hot day, and on the near side of the pasture was a large oak tree, the only shade for miles around. The shade extended out over the road, and the two men stopped to rest for a while. Underneath the tree, also resting from the midday heat, was an immense bull.

One of the men, whose name was Jon, looked at the bull, grunted, and said, "I hate it when they do this."
The other man - his friends called him Hank - looked at his companion curiously. "What? Do what?"
Without an answer Jon bent down, and opened a valise he was carrying. He took out two tea cups, took brief aim, and threw them hard. One struck the bull on the side, which he hardly noticed, but a second later the other tea cup hit one of his horns and shattered. The bull snorted, and lurched to his feet. He had not yet identified the source of the incoming missiles, but he was looking around.
"What are you doing? Are you crazy?" Hank asked. "What do you think you are doing?"
Jon muttered in reply. "I just hate how they behave whenever they get like this. . . . It hurts my feelings whenever a bull gets in a china shop."
Hank looked around. "This isn't a china shop. The nearest china shop is fifty miles away in Haleytown."
In reply Jon pointed. "Don't you see? There? We have a bull, and we have shattered china. . . . I may not be as educated as you, but when I see those two things together, I always conclude that a bull is loose in the china shop."
"But the bull is in a pasture!"
"So you say, and that may be your perspective. I have no personal desire to contradict you. I am not very good at logic-chopping, but my perspective, and I feel it is valid, is that the bull is in the china shop."
Hank replied, "I don't want to be quarrelsome either, but the bull is not in the china shop. The bull is in the pasture, and you - I saw you - were throwing tea cups at the bull."
Jon turned to his friend earnestly. "Don't you see this valise?" He opened it up for Hank's inspection. Neatly arranged in special rows throughout the carrying case were many tea cups.
Hank nodded. "I see it all right. Why do you have it?"
"Well, you never know when the bulls will get into the china shop. I feel that it is important to be prepared at all times."
Hank shook his head, amazed. "You attacked the bull, not the other way round. We are fortunate that you did not provoke it more than you did." Hank pointed at the bull, which had lain down again, only a little further away.
In his turn, Jon shook his head. "Look at that bull. It is far more powerful than either of us, right?"
"Right, but. . . ."
"Now a bull that size, and with his strength, and his obvious latent hostility, is capable of doing a tremendous amount of damage, is it not? And whenever it is in a china shop, however careful it may think it is being, devastation will follow - so much devastation that it has become proverbial among our people. And that is why I take my stand against bulls in china shops."
Hank said, "Well, yes, but. . . ."
Jon interrupted. "I really don't think the concept is all that difficult."
Hank replied. "I agree that this bull, or any bull for that matter, could do a lot of damage if it were in a china shop. But - and I think this is the heart of the issue - it isn't."
Jon was nervously handling the lid of his valise. "I can't believe that you are taking sides with this bull. Just look at him! Look at his size, his horns, his strength! He is a monster."
"He is big, but he was minding his own business when you attacked him."
"You don't know what it is like," Jon said. "I have seen over five-hundred of my own personal tea cups destroyed by bulls. And I have friends who have had very similar experiences."
"In circumstances like this?"
"Just like this," Jon said.
"We are not dealing with a bull and china problem. What we have here is a personal problem."
Jon said, "The real problem is that bulls who are capable of causing any and all of the problems we might have, are simply incapable of taking any kind of responsibility for them. That is the heart of the issue."
Hank had turned to walk away, but then turned back again. "I agree that a bull would do a lot of damage in a china shop if it ever were to get into one. But I have never heard of that happening, and I have been reading the newspapers for a long time. And as it seems to me, we have the far more frequent problem of walking china shops exhibiting their suicidal tendencies. One might call it the tyranny of the hyper-sensitive. One might name it the hostility of the diffident, the iron regime of the timid. One might object to the jackbooted vulnerabilities. One might . . . oh, never mind."
With that Hank turned to leave. As he walked slowly away, a tea cup shattered on the back of his head.

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