Walking Towards Omelas

Every Monday we have a “family meeting” at Brains on Fire. It’s not a mandatory meeting but everyone attends. During these meetings, our head honcho, Robbin Phillips, leads the discussion from project updates to deep dives into our financials to celebrating personal successes to the occasional tequila shot. (Now you know why everyone attends.)

Inspired by a recent executive retreat she attended, Robbin had us read a short story and facilitated our conversation about the story.

It was straight-up high school Literature class but without the pimples and with all the smarts we’ve gained over the many years since.

Our reading was “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin.

It’s a super short story at four pages so this out-of-shape student could read it without scrambling to find the cliff’s notes version.

Le Guin paints a picture of an idyllic city, Omelas. It’s spring time with flowers blooming, children frolicking, adults dancing and all is right in the small corner of the world where Omelas sits.

Except it’s not.

Omelas holds a secret that everyone in the city knows.

One child is locked in a basement. Suffering. Hungry. Neglected.

Everyone in Omelas knows this child is there. They’ve seen the misery this child lives in. They’ve heard the faint cries of help coming from the basement.

Every piece of goodness the people of Omelas experience is predicated upon one child bearing the brunt of anguish, agony and despair for everyone else.

Yet, there comes a time for some who rebuke the foundation from which Omelas was built upon. They decide to walk away from Omelas into the darkness never to come back.

This story is chockfull of deep issues to discuss from exploitation to morality to matters of the greater good.

Our discussion had us reconsidering the devotion we have to our iPhones knowing someone somewhere in a “basement” used their hands to produce a device we lovingly hold in our hands.

We also discussed that to know delight, we must also know despair. Otherwise, we would have no gauge for what brings happiness and what brings sadness.

Did we solve any problems? No. But we did take a moment to reconsider what we have that brings us bliss knowing someone somewhere bears the flip side of pain.

Not your typical company meeting. However, at Brains on Fire we are family and families can have these types discussions at work.

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