On the island of Nefer lived a hundred people. They had lived there for five years, the survivors of a shipwreck.
The island was quite nice for an island; it had a goodly portion of arable land, a plentiful mixture of soft-and-hard-wood trees, as well as a numerous variety of tasty (when cooked) wild animals. There were fierce storms in the winter, but the winters were short, and the topography consisted of a very high snow-capped mountain, lovely rolling hills, and a few valleys with rushing streams.
Now, as men and women are vastly different in their abilities, it turned out that some individuals and families were living in big, fine houses, on big plots of land, while many lived in houses half the size, and a few lived in smaller still. Some had fine clothing made by themselves out of various pelts and skins, while others wore the skimpiest grasses, which were fast to wear out. Some had always the best of wild boar meat, while others had mostly fish and clams. Some made up their own songs and played them on their newly-devised instruments, while others copied them and followed along as best they could. But, while some had more and bigger and better things and some had less, even much less, everyone seemed to be content and happy. Each was satisfied that he had done, and was doing, his very best to satisfy his or her needs and desires.
One day a stranger washed up on shore. He looked miserable with his scraggy beard and his face marked with deep lines of bitterness. But he was given something to eat, a barn to sleep in, and told where he might apply for work as a field hand. After a few days of, at best, mediocre work, when he had seen how differently the people lived (as he categorized them—the rich and the poor) he went up to a big land-owner and said, “Look at how poorly all those people are living over there on the south bank. Don’t you feel guilty for having so much while they have so little?”
The big land-owner replied, “No. I don’t feel guilty at all. In fact, I’m very happy. Why don’t you go and talk to them and see if they’re as miserable as you think they are?”
The bitter man scowled and retorted, “Why, you’re nothing but a selfish exploiter! There’s going to be some changes around here! There’s going to be justice!”
He then walked angrily away and down to the “poor” south bank. As he got to the first little cabin he stopped, for from within came the sounds of the happiest singing. He moodily went on the second dwelling, no more than a shack, and heard the sweetest laughter of children, at which he shuddered. Finally, at the third, and smaller place, there was silence, all the curtains were drawn down and he gleefully imagined a poor man or woman sitting lonely and defeated.
He walked up to the shabby wooden door and knocked ever so gently, then waited. He heard a few light-as-feather steps and then the door opened. He was aware of nothing but the proudest, serenest brow on the face of the happiest man he had ever seen! The smiling and powerful, widely-spaced eyes seemed to look right through and all around, and even in back of him. Then the beautifully-sculptured lips spoke. “I think you have come to the wrong place. This is my studio and I am in the middle of painting a great, joyous masterpiece. I have no time to spare for your misery.” And with that this heroic being stepped back and firmly shut the door.
The defeated man scuffled away, cursing at his bad luck, cursing all happiness, cursing the whole world. Then, as he turned a corner, hope sprang in his breast. Just a few paces away tottered an old man on a wobbly cane. His hair was gray, his gnarled hands splotchy with purple; his leafy jacket worn through at the elbows. And, best of all (to the bitter man), he seemed to be moaning. Over and over he moaned, now higher, and now a little lower and drawn out.
The bitter man put on his best comforting, pitying smile and said, as he approached the old-timer, “Hey there, old man, don’t feel do bad. I know those rich bastards have everything, but with the pure spirit of altruism we can bring them down! Let me give you my arm and I’ll help you along.”
The old man turned slowly around and fixed on him two coal-black penetrating eyes. In a deep, rough voice he said, “You can’t help me do a thing. I’m composing my first symphony and I can’t quite get it right. But only I can get it and I want none of your blasted help. I’m helping myself and it’s all the help I want. Now go back where you came from!”
The bitter man turned and ran; he ran to the shore, stole someone’s boat and paddled wildly through the waves. The next day the boat came drifting back, empty. Its owner saw it coming in and smiled. And all was A-Okay on the isle of Nefer.