We Need Our Hearts More Than Our Brains Right Now: The Stag Who Saw His Reflection in Water

I think of my partner as the King of Kensington. That’s a reference to an old Canadian television show set in the Kensington Market neighborhood of Toronto. The title character was a friendly, well-loved man who stopped and talked to everyone in the street. He was known for helping friends and neighbors. I am not always so nice and can even get aggravated by all of my partner’s glad-handing hellos and how-are-yous.

The other day we were having an animated discussion about our respective behaviors. My partner said, “This is what I’ve got to share. I stop and talk to people to give them my attention and my warmth.”

His words resonated. I had already been thinking about this fable and what each of us has to offer in these times. Our greatest gifts may not be what we think.

A stag, seeing himself in the crystalline waters of a fountain, praised the beauty of his antlers. He could hardly stand to look at his twig legs, so long and gangly he couldn’t even see where they ended. Even the shadows of his legs were painful to look at.

He said: What’s with the proportions of my legs to my head? My head is as majestic as it gets, while my feet do me no favors.

As he talked to himself this way, a bloodhound sent him running. He took off into the forest to try to save himself. His antlers, burdensome ornament, stopped him at every step, threatening to ruin the work of his feet, on which his life depended.

So, the stag recanted, damning the gift of new antlers the heavens granted him every year. 

We love the beautiful and scorn what’s useful. The stag disliked his feet, which made him agile. And he esteemed his antlers, which harmed him.

When we see ourselves in the fountain’s waters, we so-called liberal types tend to praise our beautiful education and intelligence. We fancy ourselves voices of reason and truth in a time of populist hysteria and fake news. We think, “If only the people who voted for Trump were better educated, then they would see the error of their ways.” We call for tolerance, as a placeholder while we convince the other side of our rightness. We pretend to listen, when what we are really doing is scrolling through our list of counter arguments. We spend a lot of time indignant or appalled or angry. We use our education and intelligence as fuel for our righteous stance.

Meanwhile, we can’t stand to look at the stick-legs of our hearts, our ability to compromise, and to take a genuine interest in positions we don’t understand. In such a polarized moment, to step away from the pole and toward the center looks wobbly. We scorn moderation.

Yet, to make change we need our agile hearts. We cannot afford to harden our political stances, to batten down the identity hatches. Yes, we can think of all sorts of logical solutions to our current situation and why can’t everyone else see them? Now is the moment when our ability to relate to others is required to navigate the forest of conflicting opinions. Our most powerful asset is not our majestic minds, but rather the favor of our hearts.

Lest you think that I’m suggesting abandoning our principles, I’m not! We can disagree without disrespect. We can compromise without disdain. We can forgive without condoning.

As beautiful as our ideas may be, we cannot afford to get tangled up on the antlers of our too-prized rationality. The twig-legs of kindness will cut through the brush better than our intellect.


What are these Fableogs?

Fable en Français



Be the first to get new writing and news, as well as hear about latest happenings. 

Thanks so much for joining our community!