An empty boat parable from life

May 21, 2019 by Joshua
in Awareness, Perception, Stories

You may have read the empty boat parable. I don’t much like it. I get its point, it sounds too contrived and fortune-cookie-like. The people who say it tend to sound new-agey, which is not a community I associate with.

Yesterday morning, I experienced the point of the story without the contrivance. First I’ll share the original for those who haven’t read it.


A young farmer laboriously paddled his boat up the river to deliver his produce to the village. It was a hot day, and he wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. As he looked behind, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat.

He shouted,”Change direction! You are going to hit me!” to no avail – the vessel hit the boat with a violent thud. He cried out,”You idiot! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of a wide river?”

As he glared into the boat, seeking out the individual responsible for the accident, he realized no one was there. He had been screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.


I should mention that searching for “empty boat parable” returned sites with names like Omswami.com and thedailywisdom.com. I have no problem with such sites, but they seem to detract from the the universality of the lesson they’re trying to convey.

Also, the tone of the story, flowery language, and unnecessary words call attention to the language to the expense of meaning, in my opinion.

My real-life story

For several months, a construction crew has been working on my building. It’s noisy and unpredictable so we can’t plan around it. Sometimes they start so early they wake me up.

Yesterday they made much more noise than usual and started before I woke up. I laid awake in bed, getting angrier with every loud clang and thump. Finally I got angry enough to get out of bed, look out the window, and see why they were making so much noise, with a plan to act on their

It turns out they were breaking down the scaffolding, meaning they finished the work and would be gone for good soon. The noise didn’t change, but suddenly it made me happy.


I prefer my version. Same lesson, less contrivance.

It’s from life. The other one may have originated in life, but even in other cultures, loud construction is more common than rogue boats where you can’t see they’re empty.

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