By Jack Kammer
Once, in the ocean near the equator, there was an island with a mountain range running down the middle and rocky cliffs almost all the way around. The eastern half was wet and green. The western side was hard and dry, and it sloped down to a beach, the one spot on the island that allowed easy access to the sea. Two tribes lived here. The Land People farmed the rainy side. The Sea People fished in the ocean.
Each tribe secretly thought it was better than the other. “We grow things that are sweet and delicious,” the Land People boasted. “We produce flowers just because they’re beautiful. We create life. The Sea People only kill things by hauling them out of the water to die.”
“We provide protein from the ocean,” the Sea People said, “and protein is what muscles are made of. We risk our lives by venturing into the open sea.” Young Sea People had to show they were strong and fearless and they had to learn songs about “The Dangers of the Deep Blue Sea” and “The Endless Power of the Big Blue Sky.”
The Sea People installed barriers along the mountain ridge to keep Land People out. The Land People quietly protected their half by putting pink wherever they could; they knew that Sea People avoided pink.
One day a few Land People said they wanted to go across the mountains to the beach and catch their own fish. They could help the island have more fish, they said, and they would like to do something new.
At first almost everyone on both sides of the island opposed the idea. But eventually the rules changed, the Sea People’s mountaintop barriers came down, and soon Land People were fishing in the ocean.
When the Sea People took their fish to the market in the middle of the island the Land People said, “We catch our own fish now. Instead of five tomatoes for each fish, we’ll give you two.”
The Sea People got very upset, but they couldn’t say anything. Since Sea People all acted like fish were the most important food, why would any Sea Person get upset about a couple of stupid tomatoes? Or corn? Or strawberries? Or…?
Tensions rose between the two tribes. Since Sea People had the reputation for being stronger and—now—angrier!, they were almost always the ones who were blamed whenever there was trouble. Sea People were fighting more among themselves, too. Some young Sea People grew so sad they jumped off the cliffs into the sea to end their lives.
The Sea People elders paid no attention until the Land People started to complain. “Your young Sea People are out of control! We need more rules! They’re so angry! Have you heard the songs they’re singing about Land People? How disrespectful!”
The Sea People elders told each other, “Young Sea People need more blue in their lives! They don’t sing the songs about the Deep Blue Sea and the Big Blue Sky! Let’s sing like we did in the old days before the Land People came to our beach! ‘Blue, Blue, my life is Blue…’”
But it didn’t work. Young Sea People started talking about the problem to their most trusted friends. Without actually saying so, some let it be known that they were secretly growing plants—and it made them feel good. They wondered why they couldn’t go to the other side of the island where growing things was easier. They said they liked blue, but they didn’t think pink was all that disgusting. They were happy to learn that lots of other young Sea People felt the same way. They decided, whether the elders liked it or not, that things were going to change.
Word spread fast. At midnight, a crowd of young Sea People started over the mountains. As daylight began to break, they saw pink just about everywhere, but it didn’t bother them a bit.
Soon they got to the first Land People village, where a Land People elder was blocking the path. “Hold it right there!” she commanded. “You are not welcome here. We know of your violent, angry ways. We live in peace. We do not kill. We need protection from the likes of you.”
“But wait,” one of the young Sea People said. “We like to grow things, just like you do.”
“We trust you not! If you want to be here,” the Land People elder demanded, “you must renounce all things blue!”
“No! We like blue,” the young Sea Person said. “We just don’t want everything in our lives to be all blue all the time.”
Just then, the Sea People elders came rushing down the path. “Turn around and march home right this instant!” they ordered. “We don’t belong here. This land is not our land. We didn’t come here when we were growing up and—look at us!—we turned out just fine! You must renounce all this silly pinkness!”
“No!” the young Sea Person leader exclaimed. “Didn’t you always tell us about the Endless Power of the Big Blue Sky? Well, look,” he said pointing eastward toward the rising sun. “There’s plenty of Big Blue Sky out there, just as there is in the west. And the pink of the sunrise only makes it all the more beautiful. It’s a new day. We’re taking control of our own lives. We renounce nothing!”
The moral of this fable is that one thing boys — and, by extension, men — need is a full range of options in which they can pursue their happiness and success with excitement, optimism and vigor.
Jack Kammer, MSW, MBA returned to school at the age of fifty-four to earn Masters degrees in Social Work and Business Administration. He did so to document, highlight and take action on male gender issues and the social problems that arise when those issues are ignored and mishandled. He specializes in the Race + Gender effect on marginalized African-American men and boys in urban settings. believeinmen.com