Parables and Paradoxes Feed

On Cultivating The Seeds of Social Change

As a Dungeon Master to the Stars who has been Born Again as a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, let me begin with the words of another whip-wielding master, a man who turned the tables on the money changers, and  whose way of life was more humble than any Dumpster and whose ability to think on his feet would have put his competitor and fellow trickster, Diogenes, to shame.  His thoughts on seeds.

Mar 4:26-29

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

[30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?] 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Mat 13:24-30 [+ 36-43]

24 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

Luk 8:5-8 [+ 4,11-15]

[4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable:] 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

I am reading piles of books and articles on how to help a client with philanthropy. Some show how a gift can be contextualized in the donor's financial and estate plan. Some emphasize the importance of a plan connecting a gift via a logic model to a desired social result. Some contextualize the gift within the donor's family, how it helps pass on family values, or helps raise healthy children. Others stress that some families are multi-generational dynasties where philanthropy is part of a complex picture with parents, grandparents, and cousins related via many entities (trusts, foundations, businesses, wills, prenups, divorce settlements, family councils and assemblies). Some relate giving to the donor's values, or community tradition, such as religion. Some bring the nonprofit into the center of the picture and see giving under the aspect of fundraising. Where given so many perspectives, so much potential analysis and planning, does one begin?

I notice that most of the leading books and articles on constructing a giving plan make use of two main carryovers from the world of business: The form of a business plan (from vision to strategies to tactics, or from principles, to policies, to plans), and the language of investment. (investing time, money, and talent.) One bottom line. Two bottom lines. Three bottom lines. But always the language of finance, accounting, and business. These ways of looking at the world, of pulling all that matters under the master metaphor of money and markets, and then managing it all via hierarchically organized plans, is relatively recent and may blind us to another wisdom, one revealed more readily with metaphors or parables drawn from agriculture (culture/cultivation).

The apple seed within one apple, among many branches, among many trees in an orchard contains not only another apple, and another apple tree, but many orchards.

What is the seed of social change? Are we the sower, the seed, the mighty mustard tree, the barren ground, the weed choking out the wheat, or the harvest?

Jesus, like Diogenes, or Socrates, or such Stoics as Seneca and Cicero, is using language not to inform, but to transform those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. (Many do not hear, and many are meant not to hear for Jesus is speaking under hostile Roman eyes, his life at risk.) His words are like a seed that falling in a crack in a boulder grows in the dirt there and splits the stone open. Socrates, likewise, likened his own work as a moral philosopher to that of a doctor, as did Seneca and Cicero, and about all the other Hellenistic Philosophers. Usually the doctor analogy goes to the point about curing moral disease. Socrates, though, with a straight face said he was the "midwife" to his male interlocutor's soul. There the seed when it grows must split the self wide open in birth. If we take this point to heart, that we are but the rind, and that the seed lives or dies in us, and that it will ruin us in the process if it does live, as St. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus, then the machinery of planning and investment outlined above seems not only sterile but a monument to vanity.With such Planning the Pharisees built Temples and the Romans built roads, aqueducts and the Colosseum. Seneca, reminding us that life is short, exhorted us: Cultivate humanity. Rather than talking of "investing in heirs," or "investing in human capital, social capital, and intellectual capital," or planning for bottonline results in line with our vision and values, perhaps we should begin with seeking that tiny mustard seed, the tiny speck blowing across the client's financial statement, a little thing we brush away with the back of our hand, so it falls on the wooden floor, or the carpet, an almost invisible thing that, had it been properly cultivated, might have given birth to another world entirely, conquering even death, perhaps.

Moral Tutors Down Through History: Best Practices of the Fool

I am indebted to my esteemed colleague, Dr. Chadwallah, the Adjunct in Charge of Hidden Meaning at our Corporate Parent, Wealth Bond*age, for his thoughts on the role of the Morals Tutor to The Wealthiest Families down through history,  with special reference to the historical precedents for me and to my closest competitor, The Happy Tutor, Dungeon Master to the Stars in Wealth Bond*age. Dr. Chadwallah reminded me of certain very important points. 

  • Tutor by telling truth to power (allegorically spanking the powers that be) is a parrhesiast, as discussed by Michel Foucault, and as such is in the tradition of Lear's Fool, the one person, who along with Cordelia,  is willing to help poor Lear get his Dynastic Plan right, and pass along his Family Values to his kids while enhancing his Social Capital.
  • Clearly, Tutor is not only a Christ-Figure, who scourges the Money Changers from Wealth Bond*age, but he is also a Hellenistic Philosopher, not a Skeptic, like Zeno and Derrida, nor an Epicurean, devoted to pleasure like Tom Matrullo, but a Stoic in the tradition of Seneca, Cicero, and even Boethius, who after Rome's fall, kept learning alive, and taught the Consolations of Philosophy for those who were tormented on Fortune's ever-turning wheel.

Now, look, My Fellow Professionals! What has all this intellectual BS got to do with us as Modern Fools giving advice to wealthy families about their vision, their values and their money? I make certain points of interest to my more worldly, though often un-Tutored peers:

  1. Of the figures mentioned above as moral precedents of the Happy Tutor, please note that they all ended up not only out of work, but prematurely dead, often dying in agony.
  2. Seneca was forced by the powers to be to commit suicide. He slashed his wrists in the bathtub to avoid a worse fate.
  3. Cicero was executed for speaking up for the Republic in an Age of Empire. His head and hands nailed to the rostrum in the Senate.
  4. Cordelia was hung and the Fool disappears. Lear, gone mad again, says of him, "My poor Fool is hanged."
  5. Boethius got sideways with an Emperor, was imprisoned for awhile, then taken into the courtyard, strangled with cords until the eyeballs bulged from his head, and then beaten to death with clubs. I am sure he was philosophical about it, for whatever that is worth.
  6. As for Christ, all well and good about his being Resurrected and coming some day to judge the living and the dead.  He was born poor, lived poor and died worse.  He was scourged, mocked, and crucified. That we know for sure.
  7. Diogenes did die in his  Dumpster of old age, around age 90.  You could say he did well, if your idea of living well is going naked and homeless all your life and eating scraps of food off the pavement  on your hands and knees like a dog.

Modern Truth-Tellers are few, but here too the results are mixed:

  • Gandhi said, "Be the change," created a social movement, and lived to old age. Chalk one up for the Wise and the Virtuous.
  • Vaclav Havel spoke truth to power, went to jail, got out and became a President.  Call that a tie, with the tie going to Justice.
  • Mandelstam called Stalin (in a poem that was only passed on in oral form) "the crag dweller of the Caucasus." Mandelstam was turned in by a spy in his circle of friends, rounded up, and tortured. (Stalin did torture, though Americans don't.) Beaten and broken, the poet betrayed his friends, was shot in the head, and dumped in an unmarked grave. Chalk that one up to Stalin, unless "immortality" as a poet strikes you as some kind of moral victory.
  • Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X all turned up dead.
  • Paul Wellstone turned up dead.
  • Catherine Austin Fitts, an investment banker turned highly placed government official spoke out against corruption and collusion between Wall Street, organized crime, and our government, only to find that, as with Boethius,  Fortune's Wheel turned against her, as she became what she calls, an enemy of the state.

So, I could go on and on. My point is that if you want to be a Fool who does values-based planning for the rich, I am a far better role model than my nearest competitor, The Happy Tutor.  He tells the truth at all times, though sometimes in jest or in parable, and lives what he preaches like a good Stoic in the inner citadel of the Dumpster, eschewing all the worldly passions we associate with Wealth Bond*age and the Free Market System.  I,  like Jay Hughes,  noted consultant to Dynastic Wealth, kiss Candidia's boots, tell her what she wants to hear, sleep like her dog on the foot of her bed, go along to get along, keep my mouth shut about her abuse of power, and provide a much needed service creating strategies to drive Wealth Bond*age Family Values across the world and down the generations in a Dynasty of Dynasties.  I, unlike Tutor, am interviewed as an expert on Wealth and Philanthriopy by The New York Times, NPR, and Vanity Fair, among many other reputable purveyors of news. I am famous;  Tutor is a Pariah.  I live the lifestyle of a successful morally compromised professional in good standing with Wealth Bond*age and the Highest Echelons of our Society.  He is wise, poor,  virtuous, and shunned by all decent people. 

What kind of life do you want to live? So, get with the program, my friends.

The Castle and the Cathedral

The Fool sleeps in the Stable. The Trusted Advisor sleeps on a feather bed.

Jesus said, "Show me the stone the builders rejected, that is the keystone."

I say, with Ezra Pound, "Paquin, pull down thy vanity,/ Paquin pull down!"

And how did the Fool come by these unseasonable views? His elite education. The world is a sorry mess of paradoxes.

The Frog and the Scorpion

A fable sometimes attributed to Aesop,

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too."

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?"

Replies the scorpion: "It's my nature..."

Could the moral be: "Always cooperate, with those with whom you have a mutual interest, or all will suffer"? Or should the moral be: "Take care with whom you cooperate"? Thanks the fable to Saluk, who cited it in the thread on Sucker Philanthropy.

Values-Based Discourse in the Public Square

In the public square are hustings, set several hundred yards from one another. On each a religious leader stands, preaching and offering blessings.  The believers tends to gravitate to the leader of their own community, but at the edges the groups mingle and mix.  Throughout the crowd move jugglers, clowns, men on stilts, prostitutes, pollsters, vendors crying their wares.


  1. How far can a blessing extend? The pastor whose flock is Baptist, or Catholic, or Episcopalian, or Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim, will his blessing spill over beyond his flock? Or can a blessing only encompass those who have joined a congregation, entered through the door of appropriate ritual and paid dues?
  2. In the crowd also are Diogenes, Socrates,  a monk called Erasmus, a preacher by the name of Swift disguised as a pickpocket.  Will their questions, jokes, and duplicities  compete with or complement this preacher or that?


Actually what I said was the public square is actually a plot of land owned by the condominiums that form the square of this development. From the balcony watches not the Pope or Imam, but the developer. The public square is an amenity.


How it happened no one knows, but the crowd turned unruly. The developer was pulled from his perch and skinned alive.   Of course order was soon restored. But going forward it was decided that those who preach values had best be kept indoors.