The parable of the gold scale
When I was about nine, my parents had saved enough money to replace the second-hand furniture in our living room. Buying a couch and armchair was no trivial venture, so assessing the selection outside our modest town was necessary. This meant that a trip to a reputable furniture warehouse would be tacked onto one of our periodic excursions to the big city to restock on ethnic groceries.
The Leon’s warehouse was an immense building, with suites of matching furniture featured in large cubicles that gave the impression of visiting rooms in houses of people who were tidier and wealthier than us. My brother and I freely explored the tens of thousands of square feet of furnishings while my parents engrossed themselves in the serious matter of discussing the shape, colour, size and other features of the many options available.
We children tested the furniture, reclining the recliners, rocking the rocking chairs, stroking a plush teddy bear adorning a crib, experimenting with just how many times we could turn the switch to brighten those side lamps before they switched off. Then we came to a glittering gold-balance-scale decorating the top of a well-varnished coffee table in front of a floral brocade couch.
The scale looked like one out of a story book of ancient adventures, with two gold pans, each held by three chains to either end of a horizontal bar that acted as a lever. The centre of the horizontal bar was held up by a vertical post with a well-weighted base. In this position, the two pans appeared identical, having exactly the same weight, having exactly the same distance from the top of the coffee table. Also the same were the thoughts that ran through my brother’s mind and my own. We wanted to test the workings of this balance scale.
Without planning, we both placed a hand on one of the pans. Then an impulsive sense of competition compelled us. We both claimed we had a stronger hand, and what happened next, we kept to ourselves for decades. In the struggle to be the “stronger” one, we broke the scale, snapping the chains.
Within an instant, or so it seemed, one of the floor managers was hovering over us. Seeing that we had broken an unsold item, he warned us to keep our hands to ourselves, not to play with the displays, and threatened to insist payment from our parents’ precious income to compensate for the damage. My brother and I were deeply embarrassed and agreed not to say anything to our parents. Fortunately for us, the floor manager did not find our parents in the vastness of the building.
That was years ago, and as time brought maturity and my own parenthood, I am able to tell this story. As I leafed through the Yukon News and the Whitehorse Daily Star last week, looking over the headlines Chiefs Cry Foul on Peel; Yukon Government’s Peel Position Condemned; We Were Blindsided – Chiefs Legal Opinion Says YTG’s Peel Principles Violate Land Claim Agreement; Groups, MLAs Roast Government’s Peel Principles; TIA Yukon Displeased by Peel Plan Intervention, and then finding identical full-page government advertisements boldly titled Finding A Balance and in smaller font, “To Protect the Peel Region,” I was reminded of my experience in the Leon’s furniture store.
I believe a better depiction than that of the four stones in the advertisement, is the classical and delicate balance scale I had played with and broken so long ago. With the territorial government’s intervention last week, it is no longer about finding a balance between competing concerns. The scale has been broken, but this time I will not have the fortune of averting the consequences. I will be among the rest of us who will suffer the damage.