There is a short story that was written in 1973 by Ursula Le Guin called, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” Sam has shared and referenced this piece rather frequently over the past few months. It came up again in a recent email conversation among a few friends regarding this recent episode of This American Life, where Mr. Daisey travels to China to find out who makes all of our Mac crap and shares what he saw and what he learned.
I will not try to describe “Omelas” to you, for my attempt would be futile no doubt. And besides, that would rob you of the experience of reading it for yourself. It is short after all. The story ends with this line:
But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.
In some ways, “Omelas” reminds me of the much more well-known poem by Frost, “The Road Not Taken.” The problem with something being well-known – be it a holy book, a poem, a movie – is that we think we know what it says when the reality is that we have most likely focused on one part at the expense of the whole. That one part in Frost’s poem is certainly the final stanza.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
That decisions was not reached lightly, though, for the first half of the poem recounts the traveller in the process of deciding which way to take, looking down each road as far as he (or she) could. The final line of “Omelas” appears to have more certainty than Frost’s poem, but I think when you read both you will see that neither decision is reached lightly. It is only after the mind has been made as to the path to take that one can walk confidently – both away from something and toward something.
I don’t know what you need to walk away from. Heck, I don’t know what I need to walk away from, but after hearing Mr. Daisey’s piece, I feel pretty strongly that some other direction is needed. And when this direction is away from injustice it will certainly be the road less travelled.