Monday, 24 June 2013

Morals Post : How I climbed the rest of the cliff with no difficulty!

Yes Last post I was stuck on a (metaphorical) cliff.
Yes this post is late because I couldn't see a way out of my difficulty.
And yes the problem evaporated like the morning mist.

This is how. I remembered a parable I had heard decades ago when I saw it even better illustrated in a film, then I remembered the germ of an idea I had written in a booklet on ethics back in 1990. I applied those and …. hey presto! Problem solved!

Of course I am going to keep you in suspense a little longer – after all it has been a hard week, so why should you get the answer too easily. In the meantime I am going to tell you about the film.

Our family love watching videos together. Recently we re-watched the 1996 film “The Ghost and the Darkness” which stars Val Kilmer as the hero Colonel George Patterson. After the film we were discussing the probability of various parts being true, so naturally we had to resort to Wikipedia to settle the matter. Indeed it was mostly true – the character played by Michael Douglass was fictitious - but there really was a Colonel George Patterson who went to Kenya in March 1898 to build a railway bridge over the Tsavo River, and he did have this amazing adventure.

When Col. Patterson arrived his job was to build a bridge over the Tsavo River for the Kenya – Mombassa railway. Patterson inherited a large multi-national labour force who were already hard at work on the foundations. It looked like an easy assignment.

However, coinciding with Patterson's arrival, grisly deaths started occurring. Workers were dragged from their tents at night and devoured by lions. Patterson and his staff tried every trick in the book. Fires were lit – but to no avail. Thorn barriers were built round the camp – the lions crawled through them. Traps were set, the lions evaded them. Between March and November Patterson claimed some 135 people (mostly villagers: only 40 or so were his workers) were killed.

The work force called these two lions “the Ghost” and “the Darkness” Many, perhaps most believed that these were no ordinary lions but demons in the shape of lions. Some said that as the attacks started when Patterson arrived perhaps he was the cause of this curse. Believing that the creatures, whatever they were, could not be killed, the workers fled and work on the bridge stopped.

Now, with a little poetic licence, let me set a problem for Col. Patterson. He had hunted lions in India, so had some reason for confidence that bullets would kill them. On the other hand he had to date been singularly unsuccessful. So was his confidence mistaken? The workers thought they were demons, against which no rifle could prevail. They were obviously convinced that their belief was correct. They had (OK this bit is the poetic licence I mentioned earlier) done everything to persuade Patterson that guns would have no effect against this scourge. What should he do?

Should he pack away his rifle and call in a priest or even a local witch-doctor to try an exorcism? Should he admit that he was powerless against these forces, and follow his workers in their flight?
Should he go with his own belief in firearms and hunt them down, rifle in hand.

What he did do was build a scaffold and lure the tigers to attack. Then he used his rifle. It was a near thing, the second lion took nine bullets to kill it and even as it died it was trying to get to Patterson. The lions are are now on display in the Chicago museum. They were indeed huge, and certainly unusually cunning and destructive but still definitely flesh-and- blood.

The moral of the story is of course that he had to overcome the temptation to accept the belief system of those around him and use the weapons he had used successfully in the past. And guess what – they worked this time too.

Tune in next week to see how this solved the problem that had me stumped for so long. See if you can guess the answer before then!

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