Once some beavers got together to build a dam. “What else?” one might ask. Building dams is what beavers do. Not to build a dam would deny something at the very heart of being a beaver. Indeed, for as long as they could remember, beavers had eagerly and industriously set about blocking even the swiftest of steams with a dam designed to meet all their present needs. “Without a dam, where would we be?” was the thought of every beaver that ever gazed with satisfaction upon the still waters behind a barrier of well-placed logs. An unexpected problem arose, however, when two groups of beavers wanted to dam the same stream. Up to now, all beavers had worked together to reach their goals. There may have been disagreements about the best placement of a dam or about exactly which trees should be felled to build it, but eventually all agreed that without some compromise, without a little give and take, no trees whatsoever would be felled and no dams built. In light of this history of cooperation, it was doubly surprising that the disagreement over the two dams became as heated as it did. Instead of leading to compromise, the dispute produced only a hardening division between the two groups, each of them convinced there wasn’t enough water in the stream for more than one dam. Soon, amid growing rancor and suspicion, neither side was speaking to the other. Instead, both groups began attempting to build their own dam in secret. These efforts led to nothing, of course, for how can the work of beavers remain secret for very long? The labors of one side would quickly be discovered and chewed to bits by the other, while the same was true in return. What these secretive exertions did produce, however, was a series of new disagreements within the two groups. Members of each one rapidly divided into smaller subgroups as they argued over how their dam was to be built and how the water in the stream could best serve their needs. As a result, these new factions not only worked on the secret dam for their side and tore down the secret dam of the other side but also began throwing up smaller dams and defending these against opposing factions among their own allies. Tempers flared anew, and shrill exchanges of “Whose side are you on, anyway?” whistled through the air. What this fierce wrangling produced looked more like slapdash logjams than genuine dams. When the dwindling water behind these hasty barriers proved a disappointment, as it inevitably did, even the subgroups broke up. It was now every beaver for itself. “If you can’t see it my way, I’ll go it alone!” was a sentiment commonly heard. “Ditto!” was the equally common response. And in no time whatsoever, where once a generous stream had wound through the forest, promising life and comfort to every known beaver, nothing remained but a jumble of stick-and-mud piles. All quite small and all equally dry.
Copyright © 2003-2004, revised 2007, by Geoffrey Grosshans