Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The wisdom of donkeys

By Hermes Solomon

‘We must not be upset that others hide the truth from us, when we hide it so often from ourselves’ François de la Rochefoucauld, circa 1665.

THE trouble with humans is that we don’t see things as they are, but as we are. Donkeys see things as they are. You tell a horse, but you need to ask a donkey.

If you’re riding a horse and approach a puddle, all you have to do is give your horse a nudge for him to gallop through. That doesn’t work with a donkey. You’ll have to ask him to go through, show him how deep the puddle is; show him he can walk through without danger.

Donkeys know plenty of things, but are wary of things they haven’t seen before, things they don’t know about. Donkeys, unlike most humans, aren’t good at solving troublesome problems. They prefer to side step or run away from a problem rather than face it.

A donkey’s nature isn’t to be stubborn or difficult, but to learn and survive. And they’ve been around for many thousands of years more than man. What you call obstinacy, I call succour says the donkey. And let’s not forget that the handler’s own state of mind and emotional condition affects the donkey’s behaviour.

A donkey is far from stupid. He’s patient, calm and can carry almost the equivalent of his own weight on a back supported by four spindly legs; a much derided and mistreated animal of burden that is all seeing, friendly and obedient when guided by a knowledgeable and affectionate handler.

Before the island became motorised, we relied on the donkey. The village mukhtar and his donkey, the smallholder, priest and hilly-billy were all one with their donkeys. And that’s why our then colonial masters employed thousands of volunteer Cypriots as muleteers throughout both world wars.

But today we are the donkeys. We have been tainted by their characteristics, their nature, and we, along with our compatriot donkeys in the north, are cautiously being led by our ‘muzzles’ towards a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Thus far, the UN muleteers are doing a fine job, even succeeding in bringing lead donkeys from both sides together so that world media assumes Cyprus is reunited, ready to accept all generous donations at Davos from divers sources in search of promising investments, when not ‘skiing hors piste on slippery slopes’.

To succeed in the world we do everything to appear successful (de la Rochefoucauld) and our leaders clinging to each other smiling on camera in Davos is an unbelievable success story – confirming that the Cyprob has been ninety percent solved!

So is there a genuine ‘passion’ by both leaders to resolve the outstanding ten percent?

Passion often renders the most clever man a fool, and even sometimes, the most stupid man clever, (de la Rochefoucauld again!).

Have the donkeys’ backs been broken by past events – 1974 followed by boom then bust – high unemployment north and south, dwindling investment, uncovered corruption and cronyism?

Money talks, and if we’re promised money, lots of it, to set up Das Bundesrepublik Zypern, we would be wise to sell our souls to save them – not Faustian but Cyprian.

We are heading into a ‘sea of the unknown’, not a puddle. We must be shown that it is safe to do so – guarantees are not enough, we need to be led by our muzzles – stroking, petting, loving muleteers like the UN ‘say it all ways’ Special Envoy, Espen Barth Eide.

And if we continue to obstinate, we will be shown around that sea and into two separate seas; smaller, barren, colourless and featureless seas, which will slowly evaporate like the Dead Sea of the Jordan and the Aral Sea in Russia.

‘I like Cyprus as it is,’ Doubting Thomases keep saying – fearing radical change. But he who stands still evaporates/dies. Can’t all you Thomases see that? Or are you blind, disobedient donkeys running away from solving the problem?

But donkeys are not blind, nor disobedient. They are simply cautious, and it is in response to that caution that the UN and our leaders are directing us lovingly towards reunification without, as yet, showing us the true depth or colour of the water.

I owe a debt of thanks to my friend, Xanthi for lending me Andy Merrifield’s edifying book, The Wisdom of Donkeys, which recounts the writer’s journey of self-discovery made through the Ardèche (le Midi region of France) accompanied by a faithful and wise donkey named, Gribouille – published by Walker & Company, New York, 2010.

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