I mentioned a while back that I would start sharing some stories and words of wisdom periodically on the blog. These stories are probably familiar to many of you already, but they are classics worthy of revisiting periodically.
“Babies in the River” is a wonderful parable for the nonprofit sector. It is meant to illustrate the tension between charity and social change. Here is a short version:
One summer in the village, the people gathered for a picnic. As they shared food and conversation, someone noticed a baby in the river, struggling and crying. The baby was going to drown!
Someone rushed to save the baby. Then, they noticed another screaming baby in the river, and they pulled that baby out. Soon, more babies were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the babies as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the babies, two of the townspeople started to run away along the shore of the river.
“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these babies!”
“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”
One version of the story that I heard had another person jump into the water alongside a baby. When the townspeople asked, this person shouted that he was teaching the babies to swim. All three approaches are familiar to those of us who have worked in human services.
Though the social change approach (find the root cause of the problem) is most appealing, it is not always obvious how to get there, nor easy to turn one’s back on those currently in need.