Aesop's Fable - The Wind and the Sun, and the Conversation Within Us
Plato, Aesop, Dialogue

By Henry van Wagenberg

The north wind and the sun milo winter

Who can forget the question raised by those two forces of nature, The Wind and The Sun, in Aesop's Fable of the same name, as to who is more powerful?

Here is the fable, as translated from Aesop's Greek in 1906 in the Harvard Classics.

THE WIND and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.

I will return to Aesop's fable in a moment, after a word from Plato. (I will explain why he connects). Plato writes his philosophy as dialogues because he was inspired by the Greek theater. Theater is a great multitude of conversations. Plato wants to show that philosophy is not laws and fixed answers delivered from an authority like God handing tablets to Moses. He wants us to see that philosophy is good-natured argument, a posing of questions, and a conversation.

The brilliant thing about Stoic philosophy* is that it recognizes that a theater plays inside us, too. The script is a series of dialogues. "Should I go shopping? Why am I eating candy? When will I do homework? Do I treat my sister fairly?" In the words of Augie March, "Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.” Philosophy, then, is not only a dialogue between and among a community of curious men and women, it is an elevation of the conversation happening inside the soul of every man and woman.

Now let us return to Aesop's story. Most people would say that Aesop's fable is about how we treat the community of people around us. We all know Wind-types who use forceful and harsh words to get their way with their colleagues, their fellow students, their families and even their lovers. The Stoic philosophers certainly do recommend the Sun's warm conduct toward our fellow men. The Stoics believed in a universal brotherhood of man, and recognized all reasoning men and women as citizens in an invisible city planted all over the world: the Cosmos in which Socrates called himself a Cosmo-politan.

Yet, on a deeper level — and now at last I arrive at my main point — Stoic philosophy asks us to consider Aesop's question in the The Wind and The Sun when we participate in, everday, our own heart's inner dialogue and theatre. We can imitate the tactics and conduct of either The Wind or The Sun upon and within our own soul.

The Germans have a phrase, der innere Schweinehund, which means our inner "pig-dog." If I want to move a part of myself to undertake a difficult task, in the language of Aesop's metaphor, to "take off his coat," I can lash my innerer Schweinehund with the cold, howling fury of my strongest words. "You are lazy! You are stupid!" I can also, though, choose the strategy of the Sun. I can shine the light of my own sunny temperament on this part of myself. (I can choose a sunnier picture and imagine this part of myself as a child instead of, say, a pig-dog). I can show kindness as I ask him questions. I can listen with an open mind to his answers. Which strategy is more likely to move him to take off his coat? Are you more like the Wind or the Sun in your conversation with yourself?

 

*Yes, Plato had the same idea.

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