The old chief sat with his eyes closed, in silence for a long time, as Sonny waited for him to speak. Finally, Winston addressed him. “Sonny”, he said, “do you know what the chief rooster’s most important job is?”
“Of course,” replied Sonny. “The chief rooster’s most important job is to crow and wake up the farm. Only the chief rooster can do that, and if he doesn’t do it then all the other animals will fall behind with their jobs.”
“That’s what most of the animals believe,” said Winston, “but it is not the right answer. Waking up the farm is an important job, and only the chief rooster can do it; but it is not his highest task. I want you to understand this.”
“Then what is the chief rooster’s most important task?” asked Sonny.
Winston looked at his young disciple. “To look after the chickens,” he answered. Sonny looked at him but said nothing. Winston closed his eyes again in thought. “Chickens are not work animals like the horses and bulls,” he continued. “We are kept on the farm for our eggs and flesh. The hens are small, and defenseless against predators. We are more noble and resourceful animals than most, but because of our size and kind nature we are low on the farm’s pecking order. Without a worthy rooster as chief, the chickens will be abused and trampled. That is why the chief rooster must first and foremost look after the chickens.” Winston’s eyes flashed open and he fixed a penetrating stare upon Sonny, who shifted on his seat. “It is not enough for the chief rooster to crow at dawn. He must have authority. He must be wise, and fierce, and put the chickens’ wellbeing above all else. If he does that, then he can crow at dawn and any other time he pleases. Do you understand?”
Sonny nodded. “Yes,” he said. “But… why are you telling me?”
“I am an old rooster, Sonny,” said Winston. “And soon enough the time will come for another rooster to become chief. Do you see any capable roosters, any worthy roosters on this farm? Do you see any that will look after the chickens?”
The old rooster’s concern was justified. The young generation of up and coming roosters was unimpressive from a leadership perspective. These chickens had grown up after the drought of six years prior, and knew nothing of lack or hardship. They had all the grain they could eat; their survival instincts had grown dull from lack of use. Many of these young fowls had no interest in ruling the roost, and had turned to other pursuits. These were roosters like Nelson the Leghorn, who fancied himself as an artist. He spent his days scratching long lines and squiggles in the dirt. Every afternoon he would explain the day’s piece to any passersby, describing how particular scratches represented an egg, or the henhouse, or sadness. To all the other chickens they just looked like scratches. Like many artists, Nelson was unsuccessful and misunderstood. Another young rooster with a dream was Buster the bantam, who left one morning to go see the world. He returned three hours later after one of the pigs tried to eat him, and he never left the chicken yard again. Every night he regaled the younger chickens with tales of his adventures abroad. Then there was Rocco the Rosecomb. To the disappointment of more than a few young hens, Rocco had devoted himself to a life of celibacy in order to focus on his goal of being the first chicken to fly from the henhouse roof to the stables. All in all, Winston considered the young roosters to be a soft and sorry bunch, and they gave him little hope for the future.
Winston repeated his question to Sonny. “Well? Can you name one rooster fit to be chief after me?”
Sonny gave it some thought, then said, “Ivan is strong. Maybe he—”
“Sonny,” said Winston, “I have just told you the most important job for a chief rooster.”
“Yes. To look after the chickens.”
“Tell me then, will Ivan look after the chickens?”
“Ivan is selfish. No, he will not look after the chickens.”
“That’s right,” said Winston.
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