The three giants – a parable…or possibly a conundrum


Andrew Milner


In a remote time and place – it might have been anywhere – there was a village. The villagers cultivated their fields, harvested their crops and suffered the usual pains and pleasures people do. Then one day, a giant came.

‘This village belongs to me now,’ said the giant. ‘You must pay tribute to me from what you grow. In return, I’ll keep you safe from harm, look after your sick and teach your children to read.’

The villagers weren’t so keen on this but the giant was too strong for them to resist and they thought that, if he kept his promises, things might not be so bad after all. The trouble was, he only partly kept them but he was punctilious when it came to collecting the tribute he demanded and, as time went on, this tribute increased. When they protested, the giant took no notice.

Then, one day, a second giant appeared.

‘I’ve heard about the trouble you’re having with the First Giant,’ he said. ‘If you come and work for me, I’ll pay you and with the money you earn, you’ll easily be able to pay the tribute the First Giant demands, and have enough left over to buy other things.’

Many of the villagers believed this Second Giant and went to work for him, thinking that if he kept his promises, they would be better off. The trouble was that this one, too, only half-kept his promises. The pay wasn’t as much as he’d said it would be and the work was much harder. When they complained, he refused to listen. So the villagers hit on the idea of asking the First Giant to help them get fair treatment from the Second Giant – after all, he’d promised to look after them – but it turned out that, more often than not, the First Giant sided with the Second Giant.

So things went on. The villagers weren’t really any better off than before but they’d got used to the two Giants. Then, one day, a Third Giant appeared. This giant, who said he’d come from over the sea, promised that he’d give the villagers things they needed and help them with the other two giants.

By now, the villagers were wary of giants. ‘What will we have to give you?’ they asked.

‘Only your confidence,’ said the Third Giant. ‘Everything else has been provided by people in other countries. They’ve heard about your difficulties and they want to help you.’ And although the villagers had put their trust too easily in giants before, they decided to give the Third Giant a chance. It seemed that, if he kept his promises, this giant might be better than the other two. But the Third Giant didn’t entirely keep his promises either. He didn’t really understand how things were done in the village. Sometimes, when he was trying to help them, he just got in the way. A good deal of the money he said he’d spend on them, he actually spent on himself, eating and drinking to his heart’s content. When the villagers pointed this out to him, he told them that it took a lot to fill a giant’s frame. And while he did sometimes take up their cause with the other two giants, most of the time, they seemed like brothers, rather than adversaries.

In fact, it was a funny thing – though the giants talked to each other without any difficulty, it didn’t matter how loudly the villagers shouted, the giants took no notice.

Finally, the villagers realised that, even when they meant well, the giants would always find it easier to deal with each other than with the villagers because, in the end, they were all giants. So the villagers decided that thing to do was to take what they gave and to resist what they took, to go about their own business and let the giants go about theirs.

But, perhaps you’re thinking this ending isn’t right, that things should be different, somehow? Well, then, you are cordially invited to write your own….

Andrew Milner is an associate of PSJP and associate editor of Alliance magazine.

This article was originally posted on PSJP Network on 21 November 2018. The original article can be viewed here.

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