The tip of the iceberg

As you know, the iceberg is supposed to be ten per cent, or one per cent some people say, on the surface and the rest is hidden. My method of presentation here (it’s not the only one) is to present just a small proportion and people can find out the rest of the iceberg. In this method of teaching, a number of illustrations or stories are given, but they’re meant as, so to speak, seeds to work on. And unless they change our lives, then they’re just entertaining stories. I’m telling these stories because some of them have been helpful to me and so I have confidence in them. But it’s necessary that, like a seed, it should go into the ground.

You know the parable of the sower in our Christian Bible. There’s a famous paint­ing of ‘the sower went forth to sow’ which has been adopted as the sort of crest by Iwanami, one of the most famous Japanese publishers. It shows the sower with the pan­nier of seeds and he’s just scattering them broadcast, without looking. But that’s not, in fact, the way you sow. You make a fur­row in the ground and you put the seeds in. So this is one of the riddles, one of Christ’s riddles, to which he didn’t give answers. But it’s one method of presenting, just by throwing out many different things, and per­haps the ground will open — be opened per­haps through a crisis — and it will receive one of those seeds. In the seed there’s a potentiality which can grow without limit. From that tree, or plant, other seeds can come. Without limit it can grow, but it has to be received; it has to be something which can change our lives.

Suppose I’m living under a dictatorship, a ruthless dictatorship to which I’ve been sent perhaps by my country. Now, I see some­thing very pathetic. Perhaps I can help by breaking the law a little bit to relieve that terrible suffering. Well now, I do so. Then I hear that the police are looking for the per­son who did this — it’s been successful, the distress has been relieved — but they’re looking for someone. They can’t trace it to me, I know that. And I hear that they’re making enquiries about someone else, whom they don’t like. Perhaps they’re going to arrest him. Now what do I do if they arrest him? I ask the wise old Minister, perhaps, at the embassy. I tell him, and then ask, ‘ What should . . . ? ’

‘Well, of course you’ve done wrong, but as a human being I must admit you did right. But if they arrest that chap, you can’t do anything. And you’d better go home now.’

I say (in a low voice), ‘But I should go and say that I did this — if they arrest him, that is.’

He shakes his head, ‘No! it wouldn’t do any good at all. They never let a man go once they’ve arrested him. It would simply mean two of you dying in jail.’ He’s given me an out, as they say today.

I think, ‘Well, what am I going to do? If I go home, I may spend my life thinking that, owing to something I did, another man has been arrested and died. If I stay and resolve, “Well, if he is arrested, I’ll confess, although it does no good,” then I shall be living on top of a high diving board — every morning thinking, “Perhaps today, perhaps today — torture and death.”‘

Only two alternatives, both of them agonizing. Now, something has to arise which is different from those two. We can say, ‘But there are only two. Either you can escape without saying anything, or you can make up your mind, if he’s arrested, you’ll confess. A terror, but you’ll do it.’

But there’s something else.

The purpose of these stories is that there’s a seed in them which, if it’s devel­oped, will at a time like that, suddenly show itself. We can say, ‘Oh, we don’t have crises like that in our lives.’ But we do. We all have these moments of agonizing and im­portant choices when both sides are equally disastrous and we don’t know what to do. We choose one side and always have the agony of knowing about the other.

Somebody I know is in great distress in this country; I haven’t got enough money to help, but (as it happens) I’m momentarily in a position where I could successfully sneak it from my huge company which makes enor­mous profits. They would never know, and I could pass the money on. If I do so, how can I ever speak about honesty again? If I don’t do it, I’ve left that person in terrible distress. Such things . . . And these stories have something in them.

The tip of the iceberg. As we know, the tip is ice and the huge mass which is concealed is ice. The tip’s not quite the same as the iceberg in nature. Some of it’s got a bit of snow on it, might have a couple of penguins or a polar bear, but in general it’s the same above the surface and below the surface. But with us human beings, us human icebergs, it can be sometimes a little bit dif­ferent, a little bit deceptive.

A British civil servant I knew was very high up, a man of great integrity of charac­ter, and a very hard worker and a very good fighter. He retired. In his retirement he decided to develop his interest in Christian­ity. He attended the church and did a tremendous lot for it. Then he discovered that there were some small things in the service which were not strictly traditional. So with his enormous energy and integrity he discovered the right way of doing the ser­vice, and then he sought to impose this on the congregation, which he finally did by giving everyone hell, until the vicar and the congregation finally agreed, ‘Well, all right We’ll do it your way; it’s no doubt right.’ He won.

Then he fell very ill, and a friend visited him in hospital. The friend saw that this fighting face had now become peaceful. The old man was facing his imminent death brave as a lion — he was in peace.

And he said softly, ‘You know, I feel I’ve fought the good fight. Now I know my life is coming to its close and I’m at peace in the Lord; I’m in the peace of the Lord.’

Well, of course, when anyone says any­thing like that to you and you’re rather busy yourself, you can’t help feeling, ‘Well, I’d like to test this peace.’ So the friend said to him, ‘Well, Dan, old boy, this is marvel­lous you know; you’re at peace. But here you are in bed. Supposing, while you’re, er, laid up, they decide to change the service back again.’

‘No, they promised me they wouldn’t do that.’

‘But they could, couldn’t they?’

The old man reared up and shouted, ‘I WILL FIGHT IT WITH EVERY FIBRE OF MY BODY! I’ And then, ‘Uhhl’ and he slumped back exhausted.

Well, this was a case where the tip had become peaceful, but underneath that ice­berg there was the old lion spirit; and such a situation can be quite a deceptive thing.

Then sometimes you can get a rather unex­pected case. I know nothing of the history of China, but I was once pushed onto a radio discussion panel between four journalists about modern China, Chairman Mao’s China. They had asked my colleague at the BBC of the Chinese Service who was an expert on Chinese history to join them. He fell ill at the last minute and the Producer said, ‘Well, you know Japan, so you must know China.’

I said, ‘No I don’t, I know only two things about China.’

‘Well, that’s enough. Please go on.’

Well, I went there — it was a bit embar­rassing. They talked about modern China. The Chairman introduced me. He said, ‘Of course he’s the Head of the Japanese Ser­vice, but I’m sure he’ll say very interesting things to us about China.’ And I just had to simply nod while they talked about modern China. Then they spoke about Chairman Mao perhaps becoming almost like a new emperor. And they spoke about the Com­munist system: ‘Was this unique or . . . ?’

At this point I produced one of my two facts, I said, ‘The fact is, the whole Com­munist system was tried in China several hundred years ago under Wang An-shih, and it lasted only about twenty years.’

There was a dead silence as if someone had quoted the Bible. The Chairman coughed and said, ‘Oh . . . thank you.’ Very im­pressed.

Then the discussion went on and I just looked judicial. And then they returned to the point about Chairman Mao: ‘Could he become a new emperor, in some way?’

So then I produced my second piece of information. I said slowly, ‘Well, you see ….. . (as if I was thinking about a lot of facts and then had chosen one), ‘Now you take our game of Western chess — it’s between a white king and a black king, and they fight, and one side wins. And this is the way the dynasties have replaced each other in the West — one king fights another king. But in Chinese chess, they don’t have two kings; it would be inconceivable to the Chinese mind that the conqueror could become a new king. No, the contest is fought between the king and a general.’

Well, then there was another hush and I didn’t have to say any more — there couldn’t be two emperors; that’s inconceivable to the Chinese mind. It was quite irrelevant to their point — but still they were impressed.

And at the end of the discussion, the Chairman thanked us all and thanked me. He said, ‘We felt most impressed by your scholarship,’ and so on, ‘and we felt as though it was only the tip of the iceberg.’

It was. There are a lot of cases like that. We’re swimming around holding up a little tip, and there’s no iceberg underneath it. The visible form can be very convincing, but there may be no iceberg; it may be just tip. And the tip is shouting, ‘Watch out for my iceberg ‘

© Trevor Leggett

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