I’ll admit that last week I may have made a poor analogy.
People aren’t metal, you can’t just beat the problems out of them. Life would be much easier if we could. All those incredibly detailed, well thought out schemes for perfecting society might actually have a chance of succeeding. We wonder, if it seems like fixing our problems should be so simple, why is actually doing it so difficult?
More than that, why do we even find ourselves wanting a fix in the first place?
Let me try a different example, one that I think is a little more suited than the metal smith analogy. Picture if you will, an ancient stone castle now abandoned to time. You’ve probably seen pictures of them in England or Europe. Fortunately, you don’t have to have visited them personally to appreciate this analogy, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to come up with it.
Now, there’s not doubting that these buildings are impressive in their own right. Their towers and walls fill us with a sense of the size and accomplishment that just building them must have been for men with only hand tools and human ingenuity.
However, for all the greatness that we see in these buildings, they are still obviously incomplete. The are lacking the rugs and tapestries that warmed the halls, the furniture that made them comfortable and, in many cases, they are even lacking important structural features like walls or a ceiling. They’re not complete, not what they once were.
We are a lot like those castles, I think.
We feel like we should be a great building, safe, comfortable and useful. We see what we once were, and we want to be that again. But the roof is missing, the walls are crumbling and the flagstones are damp and uncomfortable. Clearly, we think, some adjustments need to be made. So we bring in some new carpet and hang some new tapestries, maybe even try to rebuild the walls with whatever is on hand.
Yet, even with a decent understanding of what the castle might have looked like we’re likely to find that, after a few months exposed to the elements, our attempts at repair start to look shabby and moldy. Without the blueprints, without materials of the original quality, we’re not likely to get far.
The conflicts and struggles that come between people, the kinds of conflicts that a writer struggles to portray in a good story, come when people cannot agree what the castle once looked like, how to rebuild it and make it great. Given free will and the need for each person to make their own decisions, that kind of thing may be inevitable.
That doesn’t make it easy or pleasant. And the fire of conflict is, in some ways, much like the heat of the forge. As we struggle over the nature of our castles the petty furnishings we’ve put up burn away and leave only the enduring stone, and we find that, as often as not, we’re back where we started, wondering what it is that will truly endure.
When the heat is on, will what we’ve made really last?