“Help!” called the old man thrashing desperately in the river’s current. A passing woodsman rushed in and, with great difficulty, pulled him ashore. Stumbling downstream, they reached a fenced-in cabin near the water’s edge. They sought refuge from the owner who sheltered them awhile but then forced them to work on the surrounding wall.
The woodsman objected, “I rescued this old man freely, why won’t you do the same and release us?”
Their captor explained, “My father and I fished here for years. Eventually we improved our catch by stringing a net across the water. Because of the net we dominated the village downstream and enclosed the cabin to protect ourselves. Since he died, I force others to maintain the wall, and so must you, because you owe me your lives. Never ask anything of another, as you two have done, because that puts you in their debt. Set an example of independence and everyone will be free.”
The old man objected, “You should support your neighbors, not hold them down. Your net harms them. They are surely weak and resentful. Should the need arise, they would be unable to help you—and unwilling.”
“Help me? That’s ridiculous. Those people are lazy or they would have moved upstream.”
The old man answered: “I understand why you urge everyone to be independent. We should each be an example to others. But what you have described is interdependence. You and your father built the net together. You need your captives to keep up this compound. You have received help, so you should give it. The more people help others; the more people help others.”
That night, a storm arose. Wind shattered the roof. A falling beam landed on the fisherman’s chest and pinned him on his back. He was in pain and could hardly breathe. The old man and the woodsman tried but could not lift the plank. The woodsman ran downstream and returned with four neighbors who removed the beam and sheltered the fisherman in a corner of the palisade. Then the six threw the beam into the river to puncture the net. The old man tended his former captor, and the woodsman helped him repair the cabin. After a time, the villagers and the fisherman shared the river equally.