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The 29th Day
“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand exponential growth.” — Albert Barnett
A FRENCH PARABLE
A lily pond contains a single lily pad.
Each day the number of lily pads doubles...
two on the second day,
four on the third,
eight on the fourth,
and so on.
The pond is completely full on the thirtieth day.
On what day is the pond half full?
I originally discovered this parable as a freshman in college--it was the opening to a book by Lester Brown. The purpose of the story was to illustrate the power of exponential growth and to suggest we mustn't waste the time we have because "a full pond" was closer than we might imagine.
At the time, Earth's human population was just over four billion. We have nearly doubled since then, just as Lester Brown predicted.
The title of his book is also the answer to the parable:
ANSWER: The Twenty-Ninth day.
This parable stuck with me. I remember very little about what I read in college... but I do remember The Twenty Ninth Day. This story helped me understand how this important aspect of nature works.
A novel entitled Ishmael by Daniel Quinn was another formative story. This story gave me a sense of the sacredness of all beings.
A story called "The Flight of the Hummingbird" gave me a sense of what one being with heart can inspire.
All these stories set me on a course of environmental work for the rest of my life.
I wonder: would things be different now if the environmental movement had shared more thought-provoking and memorable stories and parables for the past forty years instead of facts, figures and warnings?
We are in need of our best most heart-felt storytellers now. We need stories that ennoble us and inspire us... stories that surprise us, stories that remind us how deeply we love life on Earth, stories that help us to remember who we are and why we are here, stories that help us imagine possibilities.
I have come to believe this: if you want to change hearts and minds, tell stories.