A parable — Discussion version (with vocabulary defined for English learners)
Michael Krigline ~ July 2007 ~ EFLsuccess.com ⇔
Vocabulary terms for English-learners are underlined–see the definitions at the end. There is a slightly different version, without vocabulary and with fewer discussion questions, at Mindyburg Park.
Mr. Ian Goode was a wealthy young man who owned a valuable tract of land near the center of Mindyburg. He lived in a different place, so he decided to dedicate this property to the enjoyment of Mindyburg’s residents. Mr. Goode hired a team to create and construct a beautiful park on about a third of the land, around a refreshing spring. Citizens could drink the cool water, and children could play in a water-playground he also constructed. There were many shady trees, a large green lawn, benches, swings, a playground, a big sandbox, and everything else you could hope for in a small park. He left the rest of the property undeveloped, and hoped that his example would encourage those who enjoyed the park to pay for future improvements.
1. Describe one of these (in English) to your partner: a water-playground, shady trees, a large green lawn, swings, a playground, a big sandbox.
Mr. Goode also hired a local law firm to draw up some basic rules for the property. First, any buildings on the property must be used for the good of the people. Second, the property must remain mostly “green space,” not primarily buildings. Third, there could be no selling or fees in the park. Everything could be enjoyed by rich and poor alike, as long as they were wearing a button that said “Have a Goode Day!” (always available for free from the law firm). Fourth, no one had to inform Mr. Goode about future changes and thus he expected the local citizens and businesses to voluntarily provide for the park’s upkeep, but if his financial help was ever truly needed his lawyers just needed to inform him in writing. Fifth, while he was giving the park to the people without expecting a financial return, he retained the rights to the property, including the indisputable right to enforce these basic rules. The rules were posted in several places within the park, and also in a mini-garden outside the park’s only entrance. Written copies were also available from the law firm upon request.
2. Are these rules good or bad? If you were Mr. Goode, how would you change them? Would you add any rules?
The townspeople were thrilled about this man’s generosity, and they loved their new park. At the entrance, they put up a big sign that said “Mindyburg Paradise Park; Have a Goode Day!” The staff of the law firm sat at the entrance booth, giving out “Have a Goode Day” buttons to anyone who wanted to enter the park. The people of Mindyburg faithfully wore their “Goode Day” buttons whenever they visited the park—mainly to show their deep gratitude, because no one guarded the entrance or enforced this rule. The people also declared the 15th of each month to be “Goode Appreciation Day.” On the 15th, people within blocks of the park decorated their homes and businesses with flowers, and everyone exchanged the greeting: “Have a Goode day!” On the anniversary of the park’s grand opening, they also held a parade, and (for many years) unveiled something new at the park. The first year, it was a free parking lot. The second year, they added a picnic shelter near the spring and started to give out free cups of the refreshing water.
For about a decade, things went very well, but a few people began to complain about one thing or another. The benches needed paint, a pool near the spring kept getting dirty, there wasn’t enough parking, etc. City Council asked Mr. Goode’s law firm for permission to form a committee to oversee the park’s ongoing needs, and they didn’t see any reason to prevent this.
The Park Committee first decided that it would ask local businesses to help pay for financial needs. Up to that point, different companies and citizens’ groups would occasionally provide free cups for the water, paint for the benches, and various other needs, but there was no consistent oversight. Sometimes cups would run out, the grass got too long, and so forth. Mr. Goode had expected his law firm to care for these needs, but they had gotten busy with other things over the years.
In fact, the firm was somewhat relieved when City Council decided to help with the park, because maintaining the park sometimes required a lot of time and money. They knew that “with authority comes responsibility,” but other legal work often meant uncut grass, broken swings, and so forth. The entrance booth had disappeared long ago, so only a few elderly people wore “Goode Day” buttons anymore. On occasion, one of the lawyers would suggest that they should contact Mr. Goode for additional help, but the other lawyers always said that the current need wasn’t really big enough to bother Mr. Goode, and eventually, they simply forgot that he had promised to help if asked.
3. Give reasons for your answers to these questions: Was this new Park Committee a good or bad change? Was the law firm doing the right thing? Why didn’t they just close the park?
Led by the new Park Committee, many people worked together to fix up the park, because everyone agreed that the park was important to the community and that it needed a bit of work. After the Committee reminded local businesses that the park had begun with a generous gift to the people, many were very happy to donate to the park’s upkeep. When the park’s next anniversary came around, there was a second “grand opening.” Once again there was a parade (they had stopped a few years earlier), and lots of people flocked in to see the new benches, enjoy the spring water, and buy ice cream at a new ice cream shop. The Park Committee even printed and gave out free buttons that said, “Have a good day at Paradise Park!” One of the lawyers noticed that the ice cream was not free—it was the first time people had to pay for anything on Mr. Goode’s land; another lawyer expressed regrets that the Park Committee had decided to change the wording from “Have a Goode Day” to “good day,” but the firm was too busy with other things to make any formal protest or take any legal action.
Things went smoothly for a few more years, but soon local businesses began to feel that they should get a return for their donations. When one started to sell cups of water, no one complained because they were very cheap, and—after all—someone had to pay for the cups, didn’t they? Another company saw how much money the ice cream shop was making, so they started selling burgers and lemonade. Another company built a fairly large gym (and a concrete parking garage), and those who wished to use the facilities paid a small fee. Again, no one complained, because it only affected a small number of Mindyburg’s citizens, and they felt that they were getting a lot for their money.
As the years went by, the park slowly changed. Other businesses opened on the property, sometimes creating whole new entrances to the park right by their establishments. At first they were restaurants and convenience stores, but after an expensive jewelry store opened its doors few people cared whether the buildings were being used “for the good of the people.” Eventually, you could even buy fake watches and illegal drugs at certain parts of the park.
After the park’s original sign fell down, the Park Committee replaced it; but several townspeople had complained for so long about the misspelling of “good” (and the Park Committee got tired of trying to explain) that the new sign simply said “Have a good day at Mindyburg Paradise Park.” By now, neither the water-playground nor the spring water were free, the overgrown sandbox was primarily used by pet owners as a big litter box, the signs that told park rules were now covered with ivy, and buildings had crowded out a lot of the once-green space. The only people still wearing “Goode Day” buttons were a small group of fanatics who called themselves the Mindyburg Park Restoration Society. They occasionally held signs at the park entrances protesting about the changes and telling people that they couldn’t get in without the required buttons. Almost no one listened, and occasionally these nuts were even arrested for “disturbing the peace.”
4. Who do you think was most at fault for the park’s demise, and why? Talk about the role each of the following had in this situation: the townspeople, Mr. Goode, the law firm, the Park Committee, people who conducted business on the property, customers who bought things, the Restoration Society.
Nonetheless, the public park was still there, being enjoyed by many people. It was now run completely by the Park Committee, mainly using revenue from the water-playground, a swimming pool, rented building space and concessions, for the town’s businesses had long since stopped making voluntary donations. On paper, the law firm was the park’s legal guardian, but after losing a series of legal cases the firm had been reduced to little more than a few underpaid and overworked interns, who certainly didn’t have time to oversee a public park.
To make a long story short, this once-loved public place of happiness had greatly demised. Most sadly of all, almost no one remembered that it had all begun with Mr. Goode’s extreme act of generosity. In fact, most citizens had never heard of Mr. Goode, and some even said that such a person never existed in the first place. The park’s true owner, his rules, and his generosity had become irrelevant. On the 15th of each month, most of the businesses on the property still followed the habit of putting out fresh flowers, but very few knew why.
One day, the members of the Mindyburg Park Restoration Society sent a letter to the editor of the Mindyburg News, asking that it be printed as a public service announcement (PSA). The letter said:
Dear fellow Mindyburg citizens: Many years ago, a generous man created beautiful Mindyburg Paradise Park, and established a few simple rules to keep it clean, safe, and available for all of us to enjoy. For example, only those wearing “Have a Goode Day” buttons are supposed to enter, and no one should have to pay for anything on the property. But now, strangers and even drug dealers wander through the park, where all sorts of things—good and bad—are for sale. The property was also supposed to be mainly green space, full of life. Today, ugly buildings, workshops, offices, and stores of all kinds clutter the land and choke the beautiful flowers and pools that everyone used to enjoy. Wouldn’t we be ashamed if Mr. Goode came back to visit? And isn’t it time that we worked together to make this park the beautiful place it was meant to be?
The editor read it, and simply threw it away.
But the Society also sent Mr. Goode’s law firm a copy, which happened to be read by a young lawyer who was sorting the mail. Out of curiosity, this lawyer looked back at the original legal documents related to the public space near the center of town. He was shocked by what he read, especially when he learned that his law firm was legally responsible for carrying out Mr. Goode’s instructions regarding Mindyburg Paradise Park. After the firm discussed the situation, they decided to put their authority to work. Starting early the next morning, their “free button” booth was back in operation. They also hired a company to tear down an ugly shop that sold indecent magazines & videos, and they sent a copy of the demolition order to the Park Committee along with a copy of the original legal documents for Paradise Park.
The Park Committee was furious about the law firm’s actions, organized citizens to block the demolition company, and made sure the press was on hand for the event. People held signs that said: “Today the news-stand, tomorrow the ice cream shop?” and “We don’t need your stupid buttons!” Many miles away, Mr. Goode saw all of this on the TV news. He was now quite old, but it just so happened that his son had been surveying his father’s parks around the country. Some of these parks had flourished and led to similar “gifts” in other towns, but most had (eventually) gone the way of Mindyburg’s park. Both father and son were deeply offended by the ingratitude of Mindyburg’s citizens, and decided that the time had come to do something about it.
5. Would you side with the protestors or with Mr. Goode in this situation? What do you think everyone should do? What would you do if you were Mr. Goode, and you heard about the protests?
Part B ~ Things to think about
Instead of asking what went wrong, we might begin by wondering why Mr. Goode had been generous in the first place. He didn’t have to be. This is a great mystery of life. Why are some people good?
Selfishness is natural—survival of the fittest, and all that. But generosity, kindness and love run contrary to “nature.” Mindyburg’s businesses acted “normal,” looking for ways to make a profit from the generosity (and needs/wants) of others. Mindyburg’s citizens acted “normal,” quickly redefining the privilege to use this park as a right to use it in any way they wished. But it is hard to explain why someone would just give away something worth a huge amount of money.
6. (a) Why do you think some people are “good”? (b) Tell your partner about a generous person you know or have read about. (c) Why do you think Mr. Goode had donated his land in several cities to be used for public parks?
Most people can’t explain generosity in a logical way. If it is “good” behavior, then why isn’t it more common? Other people say the spirit of generosity is “God’s fingerprint,” because they think something deep within our nature tells us to be like One who is described as loving and unexplainably generous.*1 Whatever the explanation, it is too bad that most people live according to what is normal for our race instead of according to the pattern hidden deep within our nature.
Let’s go back to our discussion about who was at fault for the park’s demise.
Some people complain that Mr. Goode was being unreasonable. They say he had too much faith in the goodness of the people and the power of generosity. They also complain that once Mr. Goode created the park and made it available to the public, he no longer had the right to control his gift, who enjoyed it, and how it was used. Perhaps he was being overly optimistic, but the second complaint is groundless because the original legal documents clearly stated that Mr. Goode retained legal rights over the property. His rights did not change because of what people “believed” about his rights (or even his existence).
7. Doesn’t the owner have the right to make rules, and enforce them (or generously overlook them) in the way he chooses? Another important question is: How long can or should he put up with disobedience and abuse? (Think back to your answer to question 5.)
Other people who hear this story blame the citizens for the park’s demise. Mr. Goode hoped that those who enjoyed the park would honor and enforce the rules and help the park develop, but the people lazily chose to simply enjoy whatever was available without “paying it back.”
8. (a) Many people think they are “too poor” to help others. Do you agree (why or why not)? (b) Who do you think should be responsible for the upkeep of your city’s parks: the government, local businesses, the rich people, the people who use the parks, or someone else? Explain your answer.
The citizens forgot that no one forced them to enter the park. Happiness (enjoying the park) was the result of a choice to accept a gift (accepting the invitation to enter). Choosing not to enter had its own results (e.g., foregoing the fun inside the park), but once people made the choice to enter, they had the responsibility to obey the one who made the rules.
9. Discuss this quote from President Abraham Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” In what ways do “happiness” and “responsibilities” go hand-in-hand? Why do many people think they don’t have to obey others’ rules and laws?
Mr. Goode’s grandfather had been an immigrant, arriving in this country with only a few dollars in his pocket. Many people—some of them as poor as himself—had helped him get started. He began by collecting garbage, eventually bought a collection truck, then another, and so forth until he could bid for garbage collection contracts in neighboring communities. With each contract, he also invested in land near the center of these small towns, which of course eventually became cities. He never forgot his humble beginnings nor the common people who helped him, and he passed this appreciation down to his children and grandchildren.
In response to news of the protests at Mindyburg Paradise Park, Mr. Goode got a court order giving his son permission to brick up all the entrances, and (one week after giving the tenants a warning in writing) he arrived with many construction workers and policemen to carry out the court order. Most businesses thought his warning was a joke, so they were shocked one morning to find a new wall blocking the way into their businesses. From inside the walls, Mr. Goode Jr. tore down anything that didn’t conform to his father’s original rules.
Interestingly, a few businesses asked for permission to remain, agreeing not to charge for their services. The ice cream shop, for example, had now built prosperous stores in several parts of town, so they agreed to stay in the park, offering small free ice-cream cones (one-per-person-per-day) to park visitors—this was indeed a popular spot in the park! The gym moved out, as did most of the other businesses, and within a week ugly walls were being replaced with living trees, flowers and bushes.
However, the protests continued, so Mr. Goode quietly put all of his garbage workers “on strike”—they were actually being paid to work inside the park to plant, prune, fix, and clean the place. He also allowed members of the Restoration Society and other volunteers to help in the clean-up effort. Three weeks later, you wouldn’t believe how beautiful the park had become again.
You also wouldn’t believe how much filth can pile up on a city’s streets within three weeks! Perhaps it was the huge contrast between the piles of garbage and the growing beauty of Paradise Park, but soon the protests stopped. Many people need a good look at their own “ugliness” before they can appreciate something with true beauty. In the end, there was nothing anyone could do to stop Mr. Goode or to change his rules; the law was on his side.
Many people never visited the park again. There were, after all, other parks in town, some with stricter rules and some with no rules at all. There were also lots of reasons given for avoiding Mindyburg Paradise Park:
“It’s got dumb rules, so I’d rather go elsewhere.”
“I’m not putting ‘button holes’ in this expensive dress!”
“My friends don’t go, and it probably isn’t as beautiful as others say—why bother?”
“Mr. Goode is a tyrant! I can’t believe anyone would keep people out because they aren’t wearing a free button! I won’t support someone who acts like this.”
“I’m too busy; maybe I’ll try it someday when I’m old.”
But lots of people, faithfully wearing their “Have a Goode Day” buttons, flocked through the renovated (and now guarded) gate to enjoy the park’s renewed peace and beauty. And everyone who actually visited all of the town’s parks said that none could really compare to Mindyburg Paradise Park.
10. (a) Now that the park’s rules were being enforced, would you visit the park or go elsewhere? Would you wear the “Goode Day” button proudly and with appreciation, or reluctantly and only because it was required? Explain. (b) Should earth’s kingdoms and countries have rules about who gets to be in their territory? Should there be similar rules for who gets to be in “heaven” or the “kingdom of God”? Who gets to make these rules? Explain. (c) If you arrived at the park entrance, and guards asked: “Why should you be allowed to enter Mr. Goode’s park?” What would you say? If your visit is as wonderful as people say it will be, what would you be thinking as you leave?*2
Final thoughts and comments
The happiest people in this tale were those who appreciated this generous gift (even when the park was in demise), chose to enjoy it, shared it with others, and worked to make it better for themselves and others. Mr. Goode realized that the gifts we receive should compel us to give away just as much, and that giving (even more than receiving) makes us happy deep inside. By asking people to “give” he was really inviting them to become happier! Perhaps Mr. Goode was not unreasonably confident in the power of generosity after all.
- *arrested: to be picked up by the police for doing something wrong (i.e., a crime); if a court or judge agrees, the “arrested” person is “convicted” of the crime and then punished
- bench: a type of seat big enough for two or three people, often made of wood and able to stay outdoors permanently
- to bid for: to make a financial offer for the right to buy or do sth (like buying something on eBay, or “winning” the right to operate a city’s buses or garbage service)
- booth: a small, partially open place where you can do or buy something (often outdoors or in a large public area; e.g., a ticket booth or newspaper-selling booth)
- to brick up: to completely close a window or door opening (usually with bricks)
- -burg: a word-ending that tells us that a formal noun refers to a city (other similar “endings” are -ville and -ton)
- button: (AmE) a small item (often round) that people wear on a shirt or jacket to show their support for something (“I gave blood!”), indicate membership (“Conference delegate”), or advertise something (“Drink more milk!”) [also called a badge in AmE and BrE]
- *to carry out: to do (or perform) what was ordered (“The army will be carrying out its orders to help earthquake victims.”)
- to choke (plants): to take away light and room to grow, thus killing the plants (like a rope around one’s neck “chokes” a person to death)
- *to clutter: [vt] to fill a space in an untidy, messy or unwanted way (“Now, many apartments clutter the land that used to be used for farming.”)
- *to complain/complaints: to criticize something, or openly say that you are unhappy about it (“Don’t just complain, fix it!”); “complaints” are statements that tell what you are unhappy about
- concessions (in a park): (AmE) a business that has been given the right to operate in a place owned by someone else (like souvenir-sellers at a football stadium, or a restaurant in a National Park)
- a court order: a legal demand from a judge or court, telling someone what to do or not do
- *curiosity: being eager to learn something that looks interesting or relevant
- *decade=ten years
- *to dedicate (sth to a purpose): to give (a place, time, money, etc., for a particular purpose)
- the demise of/to demise: the end of, esp. of something that was once important; to demise is to become less and less important or relevant
- demolition: [u & adj] total destruction of a structure (sometimes also used figuratively for other things, like the intentional destruction of an old car or weak company)
- *to donate/donations: to give something of value (time, money) for a good reason (e.g., to help others); “donations” refers to what is given
- epilogue: (AmE) something added to the end of a story to explain or give details about the ending
- *establishments=businesses or shops
- *fake: [c & adj] not real but looking real, esp. used to describe inexpensive copies of things
- fanatics/nuts: a negative term to describe people who are wildly connected with or devoted to something, esp. a sports team
- *filth: a very negative term that refers to dirt, garbage, human waste, offensive sexual content or language, etc.
- (his) fingerprint: (figure of speech) a unique mark or characteristic that links something to the one who made, invented, or did something (“This software has Bill Gates’ fingerprints all over it.”)
- to flock in: to enter in large numbers, like a flock of birds
- *to flourish: to grow or develop in a healthy way (“Cooperation and generosity made his company flourish.”)
- *to forego [or forgo]/foregoing: [vt] to omit or do without something, especially by choice in order to get something more important
- *furious=extremely angry
- *garbage=trash, rubbish
- *generosity: a giving spirit; a kind willingness to give (esp. money or other valuable things)
- grand opening: the time that a store or public place is first open to the public, often celebrated with sales, speeches, and/or other special attractions
- *gratitude: a feeling of or desire to show thanks
- groundless: not based on facts or reason, and thus unacceptable
- *huge=extremely large
- *immigrant: a person that leaves his home country to settle and legally becomes a citizen of another country.
- improvements (on land): structures, roads, gardens or other things that turn undeveloped land into something people can use
- *interns: people in the last step of professional training after finishing college; a company (like a law firm or hospital) agrees to train them for a period of time as they work in a professional environment; many interns are paid, but less than they will earn later.
- *irrelevant: [adj] not applicable; having no logical connection with sth being discussed
- law firm: a company of lawyers and those who help them (like interns, secretaries, and Paralegal Assistants)
- *legal: related to what is “right” or “OK” according to law or the courts
- a litter box: a special “toilet” for pets, esp. cats
- nuts (see fanatics)
- *optimistic: tending to be positive or hopeful
- parable: a story that teaches an ethical or religious point by way of analogy (“In that parable, the seed represents Truth, and the weeds represent distractions.”)
- parade: an organized event where people march together down the street in order to celebrate an event or holiday (in America, parades often include marching bands of musicians, large balloons, floats—specially decorated vehicles—sponsored by companies and clubs, clowns, men on horses, smiling models and stars, antique cars, and much more)
- posted (often passive): to officially put up a notice, announcement, warning, etc.
- *press, the press: [u] the news-gathering business in general; all people who write and publish the news (and journalists in particular). AmE: The press is… ; BrE: The press are…
- *a privilege: something you are allowed to do because the person/company/state who controls this property or activity says you can [e.g., like visit someone’s home or store]
- prosperous: profitable; financially successful
- *to protest/protesting/a protest: to strongly object to something, and to complain about it in public; “a protest” [c & adj] is an organized public meeting or action that shows the protestors’ complaints
- PSA-Public Service Announcement: (AmE) a free advertisement or notice about something that will directly help the general public (like ads that promote “picking up trash” or an announcement about a charity-sponsored activity)
- *to put up with=to endure; to patiently tolerate something that is not acceptable
- *regrets: feelings of sadness because of sth that you wish had happened differently; to “express regrets” means to “formally say that you are not happy about what sb did”
- to renovate: to make useful again; to fix a room, building or other structure in a “like-new,” useful way
- *a return (financial return): [U&C] the amount of profit that you get from something
- *a right: something that you are legally allowed to do, whether others (and especially legal authorities) agree or not [e.g., worship in any way you choose, with your family in your own home; some people say there are few or no internationally accepted rights, so most so-called rights are really a privilege granted by your government, boss, etc.]
- to run contrary to: to move opposite to, esp. opposite to what is right or natural
- *a spring (of water): a natural source, producing clean water from deep underground
- *to survey (the parks): to ask questions or seek information in order to discover general opinions or the truth about a current situation, or to use equipment to “find the truth” about a piece of land (size, location, rivers, hills, etc). (“Mr. Lee had surveyed the property carefully, to discover its current condition.”)
- to tear down: to demolish or destroy (a building, idea, etc.) (“He tore down the other side’s argument with hard facts.”)
- tenants: people or companies who rent property (like one home in an apartment building, or one store in a row of shops)
- tract (of land): large piece or section (of land)
- tyrant: a political leader who uses power in a selfish, cruel or unfair way
- undeveloped land: property without any buildings or gardens yet, but probably intended for that purpose
- in the first place: used to talk about circumstances at the start of a situation (often related to a decision that later caused problems)
- to unveil: to show something to the public after it has been covered, often during construction or development (“The governor unveiled a golden sign showing the name of the new bridge.” “Nokia will unveil a new phone next month.”)
- upkeep: maintenance; expenses or effort needed to keep a park or business operating
- *in writing: in an official, written form, not just spoken or communicated in a casual way
- The Christian Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8)
- I think the best answer is: “I don’t deserve to enter this place any more than anyone else, but Mr. Goode has provided it, and has provided this button to allow me to enter, so here I am.” As you leave, you should be thinking: “What a great place! I’m so grateful for this generous gift that I should tell my friends about it, and get them to wear buttons so they can enjoy it too!”
Note to teachers:
It is hard to squeeze this into two class hours if students are giving good answers to the discussion questions (like mine always do!). Give the vocabulary and “part A” (above “part B”) as homework one week in advance. Then the next week, read/repeat highlighted vocabulary (without explanation), read the first paragraph s/s (student by student, sentence by sentence, with the teacher taking every other sentence); use a slide to summarize the rules; another slide to summarize the first paragraph of after #2; another for the first paragraph after #3. Break after #4. The teacher reads the “letter to the editor”, and most of the epilogue (to save time). If you can trust your students to pre-read up to #4, then you could save a lot of time (but I’ve found that up to half do not read assigned material before class). At the end of the exercise, refer them to the “original version” at www.krigline.com/mindyburg.htm.
The original version of this story is a little longer, and has one more paragraph related to the story. You can find it at www.krigline.com/mindyburg.htm)
See “Favorite Dictionaries” under EFL Links ; many of the definitions used on this website are from these sources.
EFLsuccess.com; ©Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. This resource was created for our students under my understanding of “fair use” for educational resources. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use. See our Website Standards and Use Policy.
For more information about Christianity, check out www.ccci.org/whoisjesus/interactive-journey
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