Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The cracked pot: a little hope for 2013

Painting by Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899)

The old story of the cracked pot explains the basic mechanism of the universe. The continuous spilling of energy from one energy level to another is the true engine of creation that generates those structures that we call "life". Real perfection, apparently, lies in a little imperfection.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.

But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.

‘I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.’

The old woman smiled, ‘Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.’

Each of us has our own unique flaw.  But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!

h/t "Attack on Earth"


  1. seen this? a painful but brilliant read:

    1. Gail, thanks a lot for this link. I like that Paul Kingsnorth guy. He clarifies some subconscious thoughts I've been having the past couple of years.

  2. Ugo, I used to live in a particularly beautiful part of southern Spain, called La Alpujarra, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The whole area was irrigated by little streams first put there by the Romans but later perfected by the Moors. These are called acequias.

    The key thing about these streams was their inefficiency: they leaked water everywhere! The result was abundant wildflowers, insects and birds. The whole area is green and lush looking.

    You will probably not be surprised that many of these beautiful acequias are being turned into concrete channels in order to conserve water. Sounds like a good idea until you learn that the 'saved' water is being shipped over the mountains in pipelines to feed the ever-thirsty salad vegetable industry.

    Biodiversity is the big loser, but at least people in northern Europe can get tomatoes in February.

    1. Thanks for this message Jason, we keep learning things. I just finished readind the book by James Scott "seeing like a state" and it is a humbling text that tells us of the failure of the many plans for obtaining "maximum efficiency". I think we are falling in that trap over and over, most recently in the emphasis for "energy efficiency"

  3. You mean crackpot fiends, right? :-)

  4. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve read about this old story. It makes me feel good about myself. :) And, in some way, it reminds me of what we do at home to conserve water. We have a potted plant under every air conditioner unit in the house. It would act as some sort of a catch basin for the leaking water. That way, the supposedly wasted water finds a new and useful purpose. ;]



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)