Tortoise and Hare

July 19, 2009

"The race is not always to the swift" -- but then, it often is.

If we liken our daily struggles to footraces, and assign ourselves some appropriate quadrupedal avatar, then we sometimes find ourselves a character in Aesop's most renown fable -- that of the Tortoise and the Hare.

As you already know, in this tale, a nimble Hare and a slow Tortoise engage in a footrace. The proud Hare, overly confident in his abilities, decides to treat himself to a bit of respite as the determined Tortoise continues to make progress toward the finish. By the time the Hare rouses himself from his slumber, he has already been defeated by the intrepid amphibian.

Life presents a multitude of varied challenges to us each day; sometimes we are the Tortoise, and other times the Hare. There are those occasions when we have the good fortune to appear likely to succeed -- and there are other occasions when failure is the most likely outcome.

Consider applying to colleges: there are some schools to which a given person is likely to be granted admission, and others from which rejection is the probably result of an application. Another example is readily found in sports; the Norwood High baseball team may be exceedingly likely to defeat the Norwood Little League team in a game, but just as likely to face defeat at the hands of the Red Sox. And so, we are cast in the role of the Tortoise some times, and in the role of the Hare other times.

The Tortoise, under the usual circumstances, is going to lose to the Hare. However, as that Greek philosopher reminds us, that is not always the case. On some occasions, there may be an obfuscated yet potent advantage for the Tortoise that has been overlooked; in the fable, it is the hubris of the Hare. Moreover, also in the fable, the Tortoise may have an especially strong day while the Hare has a poor one.

So, the Tortoise may upset the Hare. How so? It often requires a team effort between the two. Many readers marvel at the determination of the Tortoise in the tale. Would it not have been easy, and no doubt accepted, should the Tortoise have not tried? Would the animal kingdom look any worse upon him for accepting defeat and conserving the calories required for such a race -- an especially precious commodity for a cold-blooded creature such as he? But then, he didn't concede defeat, nor did he allow doubt to weigh him down. Shell, yes -- but not doubt.

The Tortoise never let fear of failure prevent him from succeeding.

And the Hare had his part in the outcome, too. He let his guard down and underestimated his foe. He scoffed at the dedicated hairless creature and was so confident that he didn't wait until after the race had concluded to rest.

The Hare took victory for granted and was not granted victory.

Most readers know that they can learn a thing or two from the Tortoise about not giving up hope. And when one is cast as the Tortoise, that's a fine sentiment indeed. But let us also learn from the Hare; for we are also cast in that role at times too.

Let us treat each race as one we may win, and as one we may lose.