The Bundle of Sticks
There is a wonderful fable by Aesop called The Bundle of Sticks.
A farmer, who had a quarrelsome family, after having tried in vain to reconcile them by words, thought he might more readily prevail by an example. So he called his sons and bade them lay a bundle of sticks before him. Then having tied them into a bundle, he told the lads, one after the other, to take it up and break it. They all tried, but tried in vain.
Then untying the bundle, he gave them the sticks to break one by one. This they did with the greatest ease. Then said the father, “Thus you, my sons, as long as you remain united, are a match for all your enemies; but differ and separate, and you are undone.”
I love this fable and it is so true. Over the years I have witnessed the power, strength and boundless possibility of unity, I have also witnessed when the bundle is broken, divided, and we are left weakened and vulnerable. My greatest example of this fable in action is my family over the last two years. We were working as a bundle, no doubt about it, and we are still in a tight bundle and as strong as ever. I recognized this strength in numbers, as we navigated cancer, caregiving and ultimately loss. This unity has inspired me to keep my other bundles tied tightly. Those bundles or connections are; my friends, my neighbors, and my co-workers.
I wake up every morning and give thanks for all the gifts and blessings I have been given and all my bundles are high on the list. Those areas in my life where I feel like a single-stick; vulnerable and weak, I am working towards creating more unity and tying a bundle. We all have those areas where unity seems a bit more challenging and all we can do is recognize it and take action from there. For my action, and I feel a bit like the little engine that could, I have been reconnecting and reaching out to friends from my past and people I have wronged to clean up old messes. It was really scary to reach out to people whom I had things I needed to clean up, and honestly the result has been beyond my imagination. I definitely have not batted a thousand but I have created unity with several people I wronged in the past. I am very humbled and blessed by their compassion to forgive and their capacity to love. So never give up on unity.
Anyone who knows me from my childhood would be amused at the notion that I see strength in numbers, I was a very independent little thing. I liked to do things my own way, by myself. I remember my goal from a very early age was to educate myself enough so I could get a decent job and totally rely on myself, I did not want anyone to take care of me or be responsible for me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-sufficiency, and I must confess I tend to do too much for my kids and need to let them do more for themselves, but while teaching responsibility one can also teach unity.
I was talking to a friend who has two boys and he was basically describing to me how important it was to him that his boys had a tight bond. He has taught them to never disparage the other in public and to always stick up for each other. I thought this was very intriguing because I feel the same way but never set out with the intent to teach this to my kids, I have just been reacting to behavior that does not support this philosophy. Now, I realize as I write this how absurd that sounds and my strategy was flawed, but at least I recognized it was flawed, ok. It is kind of funny, we have things we want or desire and instead of educating ourselves or others towards that end, we simply react if we don’t get what we want. Well back to my friend’s boys, they got into a little trouble and basically would not nark on each other to dad, they backed each other up. They did not tell a lie, they just would not tell on their brother. My friend basically let them off the hook, he felt it was more important that he reward their unity than to punish their infraction. I took his lesson to heart. I am extremely close to my brother and I want my children to have that same close relationship, while I did not start out as early as my friend teaching unity, I am now.
When I see siblings that are treating each other badly it always makes me sad, when my kids treat each other poorly it hurts my heart. What I really dislike is to see parents pairing with one child over another, or disparaging their children in public, oh it hurts me right to the core. It feels like a little bit of the universe dies when that happens. And in a sense it does, there is a loss of connection and energy that feeds our universe.
My dad’s family was a tight bundle, in spite of, or possibly due to the fact that, growing up they lived in a very dysfunctional situation. My dad would not disparage his parents nor his siblings, my dad would not disparage my mom even after their acrimonious divorce. He did not want to affect our unity. I remember hearing my dad talk about his sister and brother’s and you could feel the unity and strength of his ties to them. While I may not have mastered this skill as well as my dad I know he planted the seeds with me because I feel it to my core when I see unity and when I see division, particularly in families.
We have so many horrendous role models out there in the public arena untying bundles left and right (pun intended), that many of us need to remember the result is a weakened society and a weakened universe. We need unity for strength, and it really begins at home. We need to model unity at home if we do not have unity at home how can we have it a work, in government, in our place of worship, in sports or anywhere else. Share this fable with your kids, grandkids, cousins, nieces or nephews, what a marvelous and powerful gift of love and unity.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller