Maybe I Like Sour Grapes
When I was in college, I entered a university-sponsored short story contest. My story was a variation on the old Aesop’s fable “The Grasshopper and The Ant.”
By the way, I can still recite several lines from the Jean De La Fontaine poetic version that I was required to recite in high school – I can’t even imagine how human brains work, that I can say, “La cigale ayant chante… Tout l’ete… Se trouva fort depourvue… Quand la bise fut venue”… forty-nine years after I stood up in French class with my little presentation. There must be a cubbyhole that stores useless shit so that it can come up at 3 AM.
But anyway… back to college – all the way forward to 45 years ago.
In my version of “The Grasshopper and The Ant,” when the grasshopper shows up at the ant’s house when winter comes, the ant welcomes him in. The ant says, “All through summer, I listened to your song while I was working, and your beautiful music made my toil so much easier. I’m so glad to be able to feed you this winter and repay you for the joy your song gave to me.”
I didn’t win.
And yeah, I was a bleeding-heart socialist know-it-all.
But you know, there is still a rather large part of me that still hopes the hard-working people have a little compassion for the daydreamers of the world.
Not everyone is ambitious. I know a few loving souls who do just enough work to get by, and then they play for most of their lives. They don’t mind living poor and they have fun and are good-hearted and generous with the little that they have. And they are good parents and sons and daughters. They don’t need advanced degrees. They aren’t workaholics.
Are they pulling their weight in the world? I guess it depends on how you define ‘weight.’
But I like these people. I’m glad they are in the world.
I think the world needs some grasshoppers. How boring if we are all ants.
Along with my benevolent if naive short story, there’s another Aesop’s fable that I take issue with:
The Fox and the Grapes.
That’s where the fox wants some luscious looking grapes that are on a branch that is just out of reach. He leaps for them but misses. As he gives up, he says, “Well, those grapes are not ripe anyway. I wouldn’t want sour grapes.”
So he rationalizes away his failure by deciding he didn’t want them anyway.
But the thing for me is…. what’s so bad about that?
Sometimes it’s not such a terrible thing to cut yourself a little slack. To save your pride once in a while with a self-indulgent excuse.
Of course, there are occasions when you shouldn’t play the sour grapes line. When it hurts someone else. For instance, if a co-worker gets the promotion that you wanted, it’s just not right to say, “Well, that’s a lousy job anyway.” No, it’s the time to say, “Good for you.” And suck it up.
However, it would be different if you apply for a job at a different company where you don’t even know who the other contenders are. And you don’t get the job. Well, it may be mature and honest to say, “Gee, I really wanted that job and I’m so disappointed.” But it may be a little ego-saving to say, “Well, it would have been a terrible commute and the guy who would have been my boss seemed like kind of a jerk anyway.”
There are lots of good excuses that can help you get through discouraging moments.
“I’m glad we broke up. That man was a slob.”
“Going to the community college instead of Harvard will save me a ton of money.”
“My apartment is tiny, but it’s easy to clean.”
Sometimes for little stuff:
“This healthy salad is more delicious than a slice a pizza.”
“High heels aren’t so terrific; I look cute in ballet flats.”
And sometimes even for very big stuff:
“I’d rather be an aunt than a mother, because I can enjoy the kids but give them back and appreciate the peace and quiet.”
If you are one of those people who’ve uttered the last sentence, I understand. Some days you even mean it.
Some days I even mean it.
- Posted in: Advice ♦ Aging ♦ Humor ♦ Memories
- Tagged: Aesop's Fables, childlessness, excuses, Fox and the Grapes, rationalizations, workaholics
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Doomsday Preppers are the ants of our world I think. Their idea is to put by enough to last them for when Armageddon comes but they will kill rather than share. I would not want to live in world where everyone was like that which is my excuse for not being a worker ant I guess.
You have a point. The most dangerous thing about that bunch, I think, is that they are so quick to judge everyone else.
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i like your article very inspiring and thank you for your post
What a thought-provoking post.
I am the ant. The ant in your story. I am supporting two families, whose supposed “heads” decided that they are too precious to be doing work and would much rather spend their life, with their heads in the clouds, dreaming up the ultimate salvation of humanity. I am the ant, who says “oh, you gave me the opportunity to slog my ass off, so, here, you can share my money”.
So, I am not sure I agree with you that you need dreamers in the world, who do nothing but dream. I would love to sit and dream too if there were other ants to support me, but I’d rather dream on the side, after making sure that my life is in my terms. And I raise my daughter with the same sentiment. However, she seem to be a dreamer too…
About the second issue you raise. Yes, it’s ok to call the grapes sour if it makes the disappointment palatable. I do it all the time.
I’m sorry about your unfortunate situation. I like the daydreamers of the world, but I don’t think they should get a totally free ride either. At least the grasshopper sang.
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I love your ant story and philosophy. I am a dreamer. Not that I don’t work hard. I do. But my dream job, where I hope I am making a difference with endangered species, I don’t make a lot of money. But I am happy.
Your last two paragraphs are a powerful punch. I wish I had better words.
I worked very hard at a good job (but not my dream job) for many years. Now I am writing, and that’s my dream job. And there are things I really do enjoy about not having kids, but still….
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After completely renovating an ancient bathroom so that it was 3 times bigger, one of my besties said, “I wouldn’t want to clean that” although it was much easier to clean than her tiny bathroom. Ouch. I, too, didn’t have children. My life was good so there isn’t much regret and most of it was a decade ago although every once in a while…
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I would like to downsize to a smaller home – but I agree – it’s easier to clean a big house because you have room to put stuff away! As far as having children… yes… every once in a while…
I agree with you on both points. There is room enough in this world for both the ants and the grasshoppers, and I think we actually need both. And yes, sometimes “sour grapes” are just rationalizations, but other times they are very good ways of dealing with life’s disappointments, particularly the the painful, personal ones.
We need to give ourselves some space to cope with disappointments. We can’t blame ourselves for everything.
I love your story, I’ve been an Ant most of my life but am becoming more of a grasshopper as life is too short, My eldest daughter is a grasshopper but I don’t think she would take advantage she works hard enough but loves life, I’m stilll waiting to see what my youngest daughter will be
There is truth in that last sentence. You can still enjoy the nieces and nephews without all the responsibility. It’s hard to work with grasshoppers because you end up doing a lot of the work they didn’t do because they were off task and playing. I try to understand that it’s their nature, but it’s hard not to resent them for not carrying their own weight. It’s the ants in this world that make things happen. Dreams are nothing without hard work. Proud to be an ant – and an aunt!
The Little Red Hen has the same moral of the story. 🙂
I like your article, very inspiring and thank you for your post
Ahhhh, that last sentence. I’ve said it often, but never meant it until they hit puberty.
Remembered words sprang to mind–twas brilllig and the slithy tothe…
OK, I checked that and it’s toves.. Not that good a memory after all. 🙂
I regularly say I love being an Auntie because my niece and I are close and I have never wanted to be a mother. I’m now a caregiver and still feel wholly unprepared to be responsible for anyone else.