The parable of the arrow

A man was wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His companions carried him from the battlefield to a surgeon.

The wounded man told the surgeon:
‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’

‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of this man. Until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short. Until I know his home village, town, or city. Whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow, whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark, whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated, whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird, the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey. I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’

The man died and those things still remained unknown to him.

– The Buddha

This analytical loop of passivity is a big sign of our times. We have, as a creative community, created a culture of shame in trying to tame this beast that is called objective reality. “Never assume” we tell our peers and juniors. “How can you be so sure about your suggestion?” “Can you really know anything with certainty?” Our shared memes and conversations are quick to assess giving advice (“prescribing” we call it, to make sure we have a cool word to brand sinners with) as an act of hubris, daring to defy the Gods of Creativity and their mysterious unknowingness. As a society, we make sure we have our heretics.

Many scientists were branded as heretics as they tried to grapple with the forces of the cosmos. They went on to build bridges and buildings, and predict the movement of the stars, and send people to the moon. There are still great, unanswered questions about the nature of our universe – we don’t know what happens in the hearts of black holes, or what the first few seconds of the universe looked like, or what dark matter is. As a scientific civilization, we don’t allow the things that we don’t know stop us from using the things that we do know.

We learn to distinguish which questions to ask. And we get to save lives.

Why can’t we be like that in the creative world?

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Symbolon

Don’t fade from their memory!

Symbolon

Don’t fade from their memory!