Donkey Down the Well

The story of the donkey down the well is an old fable that I think of whenever I feel unappreciated or treated unfairly. I don’t know when or where this inspirational story originated, but it goes something like this:

One day a farmer’s donkey fell into the man’s well. For hours the animal cried pitifully while the farmer tried to figure out what to do. His donkey was old, and the well was dry and of no use to him anymore. The shaft should have been covered up years ago. Now the farmer had a big problem. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get the old donkey out of the well. With a heavy heart, the farmer decided that it would be best to cover it up, donkey or no donkey. The animal would perish, but the farmer saw no viable alternatives.

He asked all the neighboring farmers to come and help him cover up the well. Each man grabbed a shovel and began to scoop dirt onto the back of the animal in the shaft. The donkey soon realized what was happening and cried dolefully. The men shoveled faster to hasten the end, and after a while, the donkey stopped crying. The farmer and his friends looked down the well.

To their surprise, they saw something unexpected. With each shovel full of dirt that had hit its back, the donkey had shaken it off and let the dirt fall to the ground around him. Then he had simply lifted his foot and taken a step up onto the newly deposited dirt. As the farmer and his neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, the donkey continued to shake it off and to take small steps up. After enduring many shovels full of dirt coming his way, the donkey was finally able to step over the edge of the well and happily trot off.

The Donkey down the well, photo courtesy of

The Donkey down the well, photo courtesy of

Moral of the story: Who hasn’t been the donkey at some point in life? I know I have. Now, whenever I find myself in that position, I picture the donkey and try to conquer the obstructions in my path. I look for opportunities that get me to where I want be rather than try to fight what is happening around me. Try it yourself. Picture the donkey, then shake off any unfairness, inequity, discrimination, intolerance, chauvinism, bigotry, prejudice, racism or bias and use them as a stepping stones to where you want to be.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

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