Two hungry men are arguing about which will claim possession of a loaf of bread.
Obviously, it is to both their benefit if they manage to come to an understanding whereby they will share it, since then neither will be hungry, and perhaps they can even unite their freshly fed energies to obtaining another loaf for tomorrow.
It is to both men's benefit to succeed at negotiating with a minimum expenditure of energy a way to divide the loaf that both may eat.
It is equally obvious that to be the man who fails to gain possession of any of the loaf is a bad thing. He will go hungry, and perhaps eventually starve if the pattern continues. He will not have the energy to find bread for the future in his weakened state.
Since this could be either man, it is apparent that it is still to both their benefit to succeed in finding a way to share the loaf. It also might seem that it is equally beneficial to one or the other to be able to find a way to control the whole loaf for himself.
What is not so obvious is the condition of being the man who walks away with the whole loaf.
Clearly, he will eat today, and maintain his health and energy so he might pursue food for tomorrow as well.
Of course, a whole loaf of bread is more than one man can eat in a day, so there will either be leftover stale bread to eat tomorrow, or the waste of the unused portion.
What remains of the story, though, is that it is not just about the man with the full belly. To be the man with the whole loaf to himself, in this case, is to have to remember that nearby is a hungry man who does not have any bread.
This hungry man, having failed by means of reason, gentle persuasion, or even appeals to sympathy, to obtain food, is now looking at a man who has more food than he needs. To be hungry and watch another man perhaps throw away unused food, or to save it to eat in the future, can be a very unstable state.
A hungry man can be a dangerous man, but most especially so when there is a surplus of food almost within reach. He will very likely try by some means not yet used to extend his reach so as to get some of that bread.
He might try trickery, to get part of the loaf by deception or some ruse. He might also decide to attempt to use force to separate the nearby sated man from the excess bread he holds.
His trickery or force might fail, due to his weakened state; or for the same reason it might succeed due to his desperatioj and stronger motivation.
Either way, this results in some kind of harm to the man who held the whole loaf.
Whether he is the target of attempted or successful trickery, his faith and trust in his fellow man is eroded, and this is a poor condition for future negotiations over loaves of bread.
If he must fend off a violent attempt by the hungry man to get part of the loaf, not only will his trust be damaged, but he will at least have to wastefully expend part of the energy gained from the bread to fend off the attack. He may be injured in the process, weakening his ability to obtain bread in the future.
If the result of this violence is an eventual sharing of the bread, nothing has been gained by the failure to negotiate such a condition prior to the onset of forceful means.
Even if he succeeds in holding onto all the bread, and not being injured in the process, he will still now have to perpetually keep an eye out for the hungry and dangerous man nearby.
He will have to waste some of the bread's precious energy, every day, from any bread he has, in order to be vigilant to any future threats against whatever he might have to the exclusion of any potential hungry men he may encounter.
He will live in perpetual fear of being attacked for his loaf, and possibly left worse off than if he had no loaf at all.
Apparently, half a loaf is not only better than none, but it is probably better than a whole loaf, too.
© Huw Powell