The Junk Village (A Parable)

Feb 25, 2020 | Parables on Learning

There was a village, set at the foot of a large mountain range, that was famous for its collection of junk.

No one in the town ever disposed of anything, broken or simply no longer desired. Instead, they built storage houses and large outdoor pens to collect everything they had ever owned that had ceased to have value or function properly.

The village was famous for its junk and people traveled from all over to see the incredible assortment of items, which included broken dishes, damaged wagon wheels, worn clothing and frayed cloth, old bolts and screws, cracked eyeglasses, chipped statues, books with disintegrating pages, faded decorations, and tools that were little more than scrap metal.

Everyone said that, if you need something, the “junk village” is sure to have it, and many visitors came to find a missing part for something that needed repair.

To increase the value of their collection, people in the village carefully tagged and cataloged each individual piece of junk. This made it easier to locate specific items, which came in handy when fielding requests form visitors to the village. But it was even more important for repairing their own possessions.

Over the years the village’s inhabitants had turned to their junk collection to address most of their needs. When something broke, they sought a fix in their collection. When they needed to build something new, they preferred to cobble together a solution from their many pieces of junk. While newer items, mostly belonging to their visitors, were occasionally added to the collection, the vast majority of their junk consisted of regularly recycled objects.

The village’s thriftiness and creativity in repurposing their junk was a source fo pride and drew praise from outsiders. However, their obsession with old, discarded items also led to a certain kind of laziness when it came to manufacturing new objects or learning new technology. The people saw little need as long as they had their impressive collection of junk.

One spring, storms in the mountain range produced severe flooding. The rushing waters that poured down from the surrounding hills wreaked havoc on the village’s mill and swept away a large portion of their junk.

When they investigated the damage to the mill, they found that several important gears had been ruined. They searched diligently through heir remaining junk but were unable to find suitable replacements. This caused immediate and grave concern among the village leaders as, without a working mill, it would likely become increasingly difficult for them to process their grain and have ample food supplies.

While the villagers waited anxiously for the floodwaters to fully recede, a visitor arrived, a man riding in a strange wagon that floated on the water but had wheels that could be lowered when it reached dry ground. The people were amazed at his wagon, as well as his collection of mysterious machines and materials.

They welcomed him warmly and asked how long it might be until they would be able to travel to other villages. Their faces fell in deep concern when the visitor told them it might be another month before they could travel safely to other communities. Sensing their worry, he asked them what was wrong and they told him about their broken mill and the danger it posed.

After hearing of their plight, the visitor asked them to show him the mill so that he could see the damage for himself. After a thorough inspection, he took a small book and stylus from a pocket in his cloak and scribbles notes and rough diagrams.

Over the next two days, the visitor worked feverishly in his wagon, using his strange machines and materials that he asked the villagers to collect. On the third day, he emerged with a smile, carrying new gears for the village mill. When he had installed them and repaired the mill, the people celebrated and exclaimed that they had been saved by a miracle.

It was no miracle, my friends,” the visitor said. “Simply some engineering learned through a lifetime of listening and study.

After he had departed, the people of the village came together and made two resolutions. First, they would begin sending their young men to other villages where they could work as apprentices to learn new crafts and technology. They also agreed to change the way the thought about their junk. Moving forward, they would make a list of important items that might likely need repair and, in addition to maintaining a supply of worn-out replacements, they would maintain a separate inventory of new parts.

“After all,” said one of the leaders, “It is just as important to look ahead as it is to look behind.”

The Lesson

In life, proper preparation includes a combination of what we already know plus a sustained commitment to forward-thinking and learning based on rational assumptions about the future.

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