Do you remember the fairy tale ”Jack and the Beanstalk”? Desperate poverty forces a mother to send her son Jack to the market to sell their scrawny cow. Along the way, a stranger offers to trade Jack five “magic” beans for the cow. Jack takes the deal.
When Jack returns home with five beans, no money and no cow, his mother is heartbroken. In her rage, she throws the beans out the window. By the next morning, they have grown into a beanstalk that reaches into the sky. Jack climbs the beanstalk and discovers a land above the clouds that is dominated by a gluttonous giant.
This giant is obsessed with his personal consumption. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.” The giant doesn’t know how to share. He captures Jack and plans to eat him. Jack escapes. There’s a chase. The giant falls to his death.
What’s the moral of the story? More to the point, how does the story of Jack and the Beanstalk apply to human behavior today?
Jack’s character embodies humanity’s quest for self-determination. Enterprising Jack takes risks to improve his personal circumstances. Determined to cast off his yoke, Jack is tenacious in the face of hardship and natural constraint.
The details and interpretations of Jack’s story have been changing for centuries. A common feature in humanity’s progressive aspirations is that opportunities are imminent, under our noses, and often close at hand. Unfortunately, the giant hangs out nearby as well.
Humanity recklessly consumes resources, stalks the earth like the giant in this fairy tale, and even deposits waste above the clouds. If other life forms could talk, many would describe how we invade their space, consume their resources, and thoughtlessly endanger the survival of their kind. We are Jack and the giant at once.
Humanity’s magic vines are composed of trillions of personal decisions made by billions of individuals on a daily basis. People are not challenged to climb above the clouds, although some do. Each of us is the temporary master of a tiny kingdom called ourselves. Our individual decisions and behavior provide the most accurate reflection of who we are.
The immediate challenge is to voluntarily upgrade our own behavior. Be like Jack: Take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Let your giant find less consumptive ways to satisfy his needs.