An Oak and a Reed Were Arguing…

At work we usually receive a weekly e-mail with a quotation or saying to remind us of our mission and values and motivate us to live those out.  This is fine.  I usually find the words to be useful, often stimulating and sometimes inspirational.  Definitely not material for  So here is this week’s message and my immediate response.  Which I did send back to the entire receiving list, and now share with you.


An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength. When a strong wind came up, the reed avoided being uprooted by bending and leaning with the gusts of wind. But the oak stood firm and was torn up by the roots.    —Aesop


But what if the oak fell on the reed and crushed and smothered it?

And what if the oak’s acorns sprouted in the ground rich from the oak’s fertilization, and grew into ten new strong, young oaks?

Please understand that I am not criticizing the adage or the encouragement to be flexible.  That is very important.  I think flexibility gives the opportunity to provide better service, to adapt more quickly to needs and to withstand those winds of change.  I’m partly trying to be funny, partly noting that most such proverbs are a little simplistic.  Indeed, there are so often “true” adages that have opposite truths.  (Look before you leap./He who hesitates is lost.  Many hands make light work./Too many cooks spoil the broth.  The darkness before the dawn./The calm before the storm.)

An oak and a reed were arguing about their strength.  One stormy day, lightning lit a flash fire that burned up the reed from its top down through its roots.  But the oak, with its high leaf canopy and deep roots, withstood the flames.

Strength comes in many forms.  Strength of flexibility, and of experience, strength of mission, of character, strength of kindness, of vision, strength of principle, of leadership, of values.  Maybe like Muhammad Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” we need to “stand like an oak and bend like a reed.”

Oh, and if no one was there when the oak fell, would it have made a sound?…

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One Response to An Oak and a Reed Were Arguing…

  1. I question the premise of the adage from the get-go. Is it in a reed’s nature to consider itself strong? Is it likewise in an oak’s nature to consider itself flexible?

    Also, aaah! talking plants!

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