The guard asked, “What would you like for your meal?”
The prisoner replied, “I do not care.”
The guard reminded the prisoner there was only one meal served per day. He suggested making a choice rather than leaving it to the discretion of the prison cook.
Still, the prisoner refused to choose.
“I leave it to the cook,” he said.
The guard returned with a plate of raw carrots. He slid the plate through the slot in the door.
“Carrots? Just carrots?”
“You wouldn’t choose, so the cook chose for you,” the guard said.
The next day the guard returned, asking the prisoner again what he wanted for his meal.
Again, the prisoner refused to choose, so the guard returned with another plate of carrots.
“Carrots again? For the love of Jesus, I hate carrots.”
Through the cell bars, the guard spit on the prisoner. He told the prisoner to shut up and eat his carrots.
The following day the guard returned with another plate of carrots. That day he hadn’t bothered to ask the prisoner what he wanted.
This meal of carrots went on for many months.
Finally, the prisoner asked, “Why does the cook give me nothing but carrots? It seems to me this cook must an evil, spiteful man.”
“No,” the guard said. “He is, in fact, one of the finest and fairest men I know.”
“That is impossible. How can a man be fine when he feeds another man nothing but carrots?”
“He gives you carrots because they are cheap,” the guard said. “He gives you carrots because, even when given a choice, you’ve never asked for anything else. If you cannot make a simple choice of what you prefer to carrots, then you are not worth the cook’s effort of preparing you anything else.”
“On the contrary,” the prisoner said. “I am doing this cook the favor of allowing him to prepare whatever he wishes.”
“Leaving him the responsibility of satisfying you?”
“It is not a matter of responsibility,” the prisoner said. “It is a matter of his ease and comfort in allowing him to prepare whatever he wishes.”
“Or, it is a matter of your ease in never having to make the simplest of choices. A choice that might even lead to greater satisfaction and fulfillment for yourself. Let me tell you something, prisoner, no matter how much you need it to be, apathy will never be a virtue.”
“I never said it was,” the prison said.
“No. But your actions and attitude prove this to be your belief. Now tell me, prisoner, in all these months, why have you not requested anything other than carrots?”
“Because you have not asked me again what else I would prefer. Only the first two days did you ask me.”
“And you wouldn’t answer.”
The prisoner fell silent.
“You can tell of your needs without being asked,” the guard said. “If you find carrots so dreadful, why have you never requested something else? In all these months you could easily enough have asked, ‘Isn’t there anything more for me than these carrots?’ You could have easily enough asked that simple question, but you haven’t.”
“I thought all there was for me was carrots.”
“No. The carrots weren’t all. And never have been. And you’ve chosen not to know it by never seeking that answer.”
The next day, for the first time in many months, the guard asked the prisoner what he wanted for his meal.
“Whatever the cook wishes to give me.”
“Then it shall be carrots again,” the guard said. “You know this?”
“Tell me why you refuse to choose anything but carrots.”
“Why I refuse?” The prisoner asked. “Why, isn’t it plain to see that carrots are the choice of that vile cook? I am sure he has more than carrots in his kitchen. But, nonetheless, he chooses to give me nothing but carrots day after day.”
“So your disappointment with your meals is the fault of the cook?”
“Isn’t that plain enough to see? For he is the one feeding me all those damned carrots.”
“No,” the guard said. “It is not that plain for me to see. But I believe I’m beginning to understand why you are here.”
“Why?” the prisoner asked.
“Isn’t that plain enough to see?”
“I’m afraid it is too dim inside this cell to see much.”
“Indeed, it must be,” the guard said.