A Short Story by Richard Ohanian
A group of fish lived in a tank in the aquarium. They had lived there all their lives.
Their parents, and their parents’ parents, were all born and died in the tank.
This group of fish lived in harmony, based on a code of ethics—a worldview for a long time.
But the tank couldn’t last forever. As it started to age, and degenerate, the fish started to realize that things couldn’t go on the way it was for long. Something had to change, they thought.
The fish couldn’t figure out the solution to their problems because they didn’t know much about their changing tank and they didn’t know about their ignorance.
After all, they had lived their entire lives in the tank, with one code, one worldview. A new way of seeing and doing things wasn’t common to them. Their horizons were limited to the tank.
There was not much change happening in their collective wisdom, as new ideas were not welcomed. The old fish were replaced with new fish who thought exactly the same way as their predecessors.
Alternative views about the tank and the traditional way of existence were not welcomed by the older fish. The tails of the young fish who thought differently would be painted with a nasty color so they could be recognized and ignored by the rest of the fish in the tank.
One day, a young fish decided that he had to be the one to bring about change. But how?
He was unable to think of anything “new,” and figured it came from the ultimate limitation he had suffered by living in the tank, like the other fish.
So he decided to jump out of the tank in order to be able to view the tank from the outside world, so that, perhaps, he could see what was wrong with the tank, and hopefully a new theory or perspective would dawn on him.
He tried and tried to jump out of the tank. It was hard, but every time he tried to jump, he got a little bit higher and higher. The others in the group were discouraging. Most were content with the situation.
Finally, one day, he jumped out of the tank high enough that he reached the other side. On the way out, he could see the “inside” from the “outside.”
It was fascinating.
When he reached the other side, he died!
Some time passed in the tank. And the fish started to forget about the young one who had vanished, the one who wanted to bring change.
But there was another young fish who didn’t forget his best friend.
Every day, he went near the surface of the water, and looked for any sign of his friend. But nothing.
As he would wait on the surface of the water, he slowly became accustomed to breathing air as well. It was something new, something he had never experienced.
After some time, the young fish decided to follow his friend’s path and jump to the other side. Life in the tank was not satisfying him and the group of fish was bothering him, since they always thought they knew the nature of their problems and were content with keeping themselves busy with their little fishy stuff.
But for the young fish, what the others were saying did not make sense. He thought to himself, “Memory is a stranger. History is for fools. These guys think they know, but in fact they don’t, they are just happy with petty fishy stuff. I need to jump out and find the ultimate solution.”
So he set off on his attempt to jump out. Little by little he cleared more air, and jumped a bit higher, until one day he jumped out of the tank and reached the other side.
From the outside, he looked in, and saw the limitations of the tank. It was fascinating.
He sat there and started to think, not noticing any change as he had already learned how to breathe in the air…
After some time, he found the solution. “I should go back to the tank now,” he thought to himself.
“I know what I know and I know what I don’t know, and I can find the answers now!”
He started jumping, until one day he got back into the tank.
Suddenly he noticed that he could not breathe in the water. As he was struggling to breathe, he realized that he was no longer a fish…
And he died in the tank.