We’re told that the story of Stone Soup is a medieval folk tale about soldiers on their long way home from war. But it’s really a story that is both older and more contemporary; it is a fable for our times, a lesson in the Lucifer Effect and how to reverse it.
One day three comrades walked down a road in medieval France, weary and hungry. They came upon a village of frightened people. These people hide their limited supply of food and bar their doors against hungry soldiers who arrive at dusk. This is the Lucifer Effect at work; the villagers have infected each other with their fear of strangers and their fear of scarcity.
If we think about the story of the Good Samaritan, the weary travelers could be seen as strangers bleeding by the side of the road, the “neighbors” who are to be loved and helped. And so they are. But almost as soon as they arrive, the three comrades perceive that this is not a village of Good Samaritans. Yes, the travelers may be tired and hungry and needy. Yet the villagers are even more in need. Their need is deep and subtle. They are trapped in the Lucifer Effect.
It is a pattern the travelers have seen many times before.
They don’t take a moment to consult one another. Instead they begin immediately to act as Good Samaritans to the villagers. They set about making themselves neighbors of the neighbors they meet. They do something so bizarre and unexpected that it lifts the villagers up out of their close attention to their fear of scarcity: the travelers begin making soup from stones.
Filled with curiosity and amazement, the villagers forget their fear. In that moment of surprise, of openness, the villagers become able to participate in the soup-making. And through a community effort to make the soup “extra good,” each villager receives more than if the meal were prepared at home, alone.
The villager who has potatoes could, alone, have potato soup, but by participating has a sustaining stew filled with many other vegetables and even some meat.
The villager who has been hoarding meat might, alone, have enough protein, yet die of scurvy; but by participating has the vegetables others bring.
All the villagers benefit from the enormous satisfaction each feels in making a contribution by adding something to the pot. And there is another thing: they feel gratitude toward each other and to the three strangers who have led the way, who have reversed the Lucifer Effect’s contagion of fear and division.
How? The travelers know the secret of Stone Soup. It is not a “secret recipe” or the hidden magic of special stones. The secret is in the decision to act as neighbors to one another. The power to act as a neighbor is within each of us, awaiting only a change in our vision, a change in our internal posture: the activation of that inner compass always pointing north. Then the outflowing of love is automatic and in some fundamental way not a choice. Call it the Gabriel Effect.
The villagers in the fable “Stone Soup” were stuck in their fear. The Lucifer Effect was powerfully at work. Yet again and again, in the lives of the three travelers, events had invited them to act together as heroes. From long experience they knew how to behave with generosity and courage toward people just like these villagers; how to encourage them to act like neighbors. What the villagers needed was a nudge in the right direction. That’s often all it takes to reverse the Lucifer Effect.
When we live out of a place of love rather than fear, we see opportunities for loving action whenever they arise. We find ourselves in the right place at the right time and we seize the opportunity. After that night of Stone Soup, the villagers love themselves a bit more; they have a bit more confidence that acting to help others is also good for themselves. If they can remember those feelings, they can live from the neighborly place in their hearts, that part that says: “Giving is good for us all.”
Of course there may be danger. There may be hard times. The villagers may rightly be afraid.
But if they tell and re-tell the story of Stone Soup; if they tell it to their children, to each other, and (in the silence of the night, when worries come to them and keep them from sleep) if they tell it to themselves, then they can remember how it felt. They can remember that acting as neighbor is simply a very good way to live.
The villagers did tell and re-tell the story, so we today know it as an old French folk tale. We tell it to our children, and to each other, and to ourselves in the darkest hours of the night. But it is not simply an old story. It is a fable for our times. Now, more than ever, the world needs heroes who love the world away from the Lucifer Effect. The world needs heroes who, like the three comrades, travel all walks of life looking for ways to make themselves neighbors of the neighbors they meet.
Go and do likewise.
Note: The phrase “make themselves neighbors of the neighbors they meet” is François Bovon’s. In his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Bovon says that after hearing the parable of the Good Samaritan, the listeners “promise themselves to go along that famous road of meeting, and to do likewise: that is, to make themselves neighbors of the neighbors they meet.” François Bovon is Frothingham Professor of the History of Religion at Harvard Divinity School.
WHAT A BEAUTIFULLY TOLD TALE!
CONGRATULATIONS AND THANKS FOR SHARING IT WITH ALL OF US.
I DID NOT KNOW THE FABLE OF STONE SOUP, BUT IT IS SURELY WORTHY OF RETELLING IN OUR TIMES, AND ITS MESSAGE SHOULD REFOCUS OUR MORAL COMPASS.
IT IS SO CRITICAL FOR US ALL TO BECOME AWARE OF HOW SMALL DEEDS OF PRO SOCIAL BEHAVIOR CAN GENERATE HUGE POSITIVE OUTCOMES. THE LUCIFER EFFECT IS ALWAYS THERE READY TO SEDUCE US OVER TO THE DARK SIDE OF INDIFFERENCE TOWARD OTHERS, OF SELFISHNESS, OF CRUELTY TO OTHERS.BUT ITS MORTAL ENEMY CARRIES NO WEAPON OTHER THAN COMPASSION, THAN EMPATHY, THAN WILLING TO SERVE THE LEAST OF OUR KIND AS IF THEY WERE OUR CLOSEST KIN.
IN MY LUCIFER EFFECT BOOK, I CELEBRATE THE INFINITE CAPACITY OF THE HUMAN MIND TO CREATE FUNDAMENTAL DIALECTICS THAT MAKE ANY OF US KIND OR CRUEL, CARING OR INDIFFERENT, CREATIVE OR DESTRUCTIVE, AND IT PUSHES SOME OF US TO BECOME VILLAINS, PERPETRATORS OF EVIL, YET CATALYZES OTHERS OF US TO TAKE HEROIC ACTION ON BEHALF OF OTHERS OR IN DEFENSE OF A MORAL CAUSE.
HOW I WISH YOUR SERMON COULD BE PREACHED FROM EVERY PULPIT TO REACH OUT FAR BEYOND THIS BLOG SPACE SO THAT MORE ORDINARY TRAVELERS ARE INSPIRED TO ACT HEROICALLY TOWARD THEIR FELLOW MAN AND WOMAN.
PROUD TO HAVE YOU PLAY A CORE ROLE IN THIS THEOLOGY MEETS PSYCHOLOGY BLOG SPHERE.
Thank you I loved the story. I printed it so I can shair it with everyone I know. I got to this site because I'm talking a pshchology class and had to look up Stanley Milgram and his obedience experiments. What the ethical and moral aspects of it were and what we thought of it. Looking up things I came across this. learning is so much fun!
By Eileen Fullen | Posted on November 19, 2009, 6:29 pm