Oksanen, Reijo

The Importance of the Other -

This morning I needed to drive up to the village post to fetch a registered letter. I put the slip from the post office into my wallet, put on the outer clothes and started driving (the distance is only about one km). Having driven one minute or so, I remembered that I need the slip from the post office, otherwise they do not give me the letter. As suspected, I had forgotten to take the wallet with me! It turned out the donkey had put it on a shelf, which “I” do not use for such things.

It is not always easy to live with a donkey, at least not with the one I live with. (I could call the poor animal something else; although I must admit that the name “donkey” fits this real life story.) But can I expect him to remember? Of course, if he is in the habit of remembering and has learned it, then I could.

Mullah Nasrudin riding his donkey backwards
Mullah riding his donkey backwards

There is much more in this story than what is immediately obvious.

The question is about the relationship that “something higher” or "the unconscious" has to “something lower” or "the conscious" in me. This something lower is the functioning: thought, emotion and body — highly necessary in the functioning in this world. They can all go on by themselves (and they do), very much like the donkey, without something higher, which could also be called “I” or even "real I". In the story, it is not the donkey that is missing! It is the “I”.

To put it differently – “I” was on its way to be taken to the post office by the donkey — quite a normal standard thing that happens all the time!

To try once more to express it better – what was missing was the relationship between me and the donkey! After all, I cannot cope without him, just as little as he can without me.

This is no less than the secret of life!

What is the relationship between me and the other?

I cannot expect the donkey to remember me, pay attention to me, take care of things etc. Although this is exactly where it seems to go the wrong way. Both should remember!

That is my job; he is the one who serves. However, he will only serve me when I am present – not when I forget, or when I am not attentive, and not give him the impulses needed for action. What if he does not hear…?

That is it! He also needs to listen; otherwise he cannot be of any service.

Attention is the third force between “me and my donkey”, between the active and the passive; the invisible human element in “us”. It can act as a bridge where these two, the donkey in my possession and me, can meet. This is necessary in order to become "a perfect man"!

The situation I describe above is told in a story about General Gordon by Idries Shah in his book called Caravan of Dreams

(This is a translation of the German translation without Idries Shah's explanations to it.)

This story is about one of the most famous statues - which once was a sight in Khartoum - depicting General Gordon sitting on a camel.

The mentioned statue became a favourite of a three years old boy; his nanny used to go with the boy on a daily walk past General Gordon greeting him with a "good morning" every time.

Then came the day when the family left Sudan and the nanny took the little boy to General Gordon to say goodbye to him.

Having stood a long time in front of the statue looking at it, the boy said: "Farewell General Gordon, for a long time I will not be seeing you."

He then turned away from the rider on the camel, looked at his nanny and asked:

"Nanny, who is sitting on General Gordon's back?"

General Gordon and his Camel