Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth

The Farmer on the Hill

Part of Virtue Ethics

A wisdom tale from Japan.

On the top of the hill lived the village curmudgeon.

No one knew why the farmer was so ornery, yet he never seemed to have a kind word to say.

No one knew why he was so inhospitable, yet he would not even open his door to visitors.

No one knew why he lived isolated, at the top of a hill that was difficult to traverse, yet it was rumored that he had moved there after the death of his young son.

What everyone did know, was that he wanted to be left alone. And alone he was.

It was time for the festival. Everyone in the village would be there—except for the farmer at the top of the hill. The women sang, the men told tall tales, and the children played, screaming at the top of their lungs as they ripped and ran, trailing long streamers behind them.

It was all the noise that brought the farmer at the top of the hill outside. "What is all the commotion?" he wondered aloud. Looking down the hill, he could see the village festivities. But it was not the bright sights of the celebration that took his breath away. For looking beyond the village, out to the nearby sea, the farmer saw a huge wave rolling toward the shore with tremendous speed. Though he had never witnessed one, he knew what this was: a tsunami.

Though his house was safe, up upon the hill, the tsunami was heading straight for the village.

The farmer yelled out a warning. But because of the festivities, no one could hear him.

He jumped up and down and waved his arms. But because everyone was having so much fun together, no one saw him. The farmer was frantic. How could he stop the tsunami from drowning the entire village?

Suddenly, he knew. Though he might be ornery and inhospitable, he knew the village people were not. They had always reached out to him with kindness. The farmer did the only thing he could think to do. With no concern for his own safety, he rushed into his fields and lit all his crops afire.

A raging inferno ensued, as the dry vegetation quickly wilted and crumbled in the flames. Who saw the flames first? No one knew. Perhaps a bright-eyed child, or an elder with a nose finely attuned for smoke. Whoever it was, the cry of, "Fire!" spread quickly and all the festivities stopped as the villagers' eyes turned toward the hill.

"Quick! Get buckets of water! We have to save the farmer and his land!"

And everyone did. All the villagers rushed up the hill—with buckets, with blankets, and with no concern for their own safety.

They reached the top and doused the last of the flames. By then, all the farmer's crops were destroyed. Yet no one from the village drowned in the tsunami. And they all knew why.