Layers of the Parable

Layers of the Parable

This story is from the tales of Nasreddin Hodja, a 13th-century Sufisage. His wisdom stories often use humor to point out human failings and misunderstandings. What is relevant about this story for our purposes is the way it captures some of the key concepts in critical social justice literacy:

Each of us has a culturally based worldview. We hold a common assumption that others share our worldview. We often assume that what we intend to communicate is what is received.

Because Hodja and the foreigner do not speak the same verbal language, they move to a form of sign language and assume that they share the same understandings of what is being signed. Although both men leave the exchange feeling satisfied, we realize that they have completely misunderstood each other. But if we go deeper than a simple misunderstanding, we might also see that they had completely different ways of organizing the world and what they valued within it. For the foreigner, the emphasis was on the elements of the Earth; he had a more scientific orientation. For Hodja, the emphasis was on sharing a meal; he had a more community orientation.

As their ideas about each other form and are communicated to their respective groups (the foreigner to his entourage and Hodja to his fellow townspeople), consider now that one of them is in the position to enforce his worldview upon the other; that is, consider what might happen when we add power to the encounter. Imagine the foreigner and his entourage are not just passing through, they are in town because their nation has just invaded Hodja’s. The foreigner has been installed to govern Hodja’s town and he now controls all of the land—land that Hodja and the townfolk have lived on and raised their food on all of their lives, as did their ancestors before them. But now Hodja must pay the foreigner large fees to use this land. The foreigner moves in and appoints his own people to key positions of government and sets up his culture’s rules and social norms. The foreigner imposes these new rules and norms upon Hodja and the townspeople.

Which one of these men is going to need to learn to understand the perspective of the other? While they each have their own worldview and neither worldview is inherently superior, only one of them is in a position of power that enables him to impose his worldview on the other. Hodja


and his community’s ability to work and feed their families now depend upon the foreigner and his customs, language, and traditions, whereas the foreigner does not have to learn the town’s customs, language, or traditions. Indeed, the foreigner, who now controls all of the resources needed for Hodja’s livelihood, will profit from Hodja and the community’s labor without ever having to learn to understand their perspective.

Now fast-forward from the 13th century to the 21st. Centuries of domination of the town and resultant conflicts have occurred. The descendants of the foreigner, who continue to control the town, benefit from the resources and power they have accumulated over the centuries. Meanwhile, the descendants of the townsfolk have had to change their entire way of life, customs, and even language in order to survive. The townsfolk try to pass their traditions on to their young children, but the children see little value in cultural traditions that don’t seem to get them anywhere in society. Many of the foreigners’ descendants are also frustrated. They can’t understand why some townsfolk are so angry—after all, they weren’t the ones who invaded the town centuries ago, and they don’t see why the townspeople can’t just get over it and assimilate so they can all live together in peace.

As we can see, there are many layers of complexity in this story, layers that have built up and been left unaddressed over generations. The foreigner’s descendants see the situation as simple: Hodja’s descendants should just let go of the past and move on. Hodja’s descendants, however, see the situation as much more complicated. Until the historical, cultural, and ideological aspects of the foreigner’s domination are addressed, no one can just “get over it.” Indeed, they recognize that far from being over, the domination continues in newer forms. The suggestion that they could just move on reveals how little the foreigner’s descendants understand the history of their town and their current position within society, based on that history. This story is meant to illustrate many of the complex issues that must be understood in order to develop critical social justice literacy.

Place Your Order Here!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *