The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
I recently recalled a fable I learned in elementary school called The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
Mainly because it was referenced several times in Chainsaw Man, a really awesome manga that I’ve gotten into in the recent months.
In the manga, the cast of main characters (Denji, Reze, Angel, and Makima) grasps with whether they prefer to be the country mouse vs. the town mouse.
I’d rather not spoil the manga, so here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia for folks unfamiliar with the tale:
In the original tale, a proud town mouse visits his cousin in the country. The country mouse offers the city mouse a meal of simple country cuisine, at which the visitor scoffs and invites the country mouse back to the city for a taste of the “fine life” and the two cousins dine on white bread and other fine foods.
But their rich feast is interrupted by a cat which forces the rodent cousins to abandon their meal and retreat back into their mouse hole for safety.
Town mouse tells country mouse that the cat killed his mother and father and that he is frequently the target of attacks. After hearing this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring security to opulence or, as the 13th-century preacher Odo of Cheriton phrased it, “I’d rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear”.
The moral of the story — as I was taught in school growing up — is that it’s better to live a simple, humble life that is peaceful and secure than a high-flying life of luxury that is stressful and can fall apart at any moment.
Revisiting this fable a few years later, I’m not so super I have the same takeaway. (Also Aesop’s fables always have more nuanced lessons that get simplified for schoolchildren).
I see The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse as a lesson of trade-offs — and this gets revisited in Chainsaw Man.
What can of life do you prefer to live?
You can be the country mouse: living in a small town with a happy but simple life without the lack of security.
Or you can be the town mouse: someone that flies a little closer to the sun. The view from the sky is much more beautiful, but you run the risk of getting burnt from the rays.
From a behavioral economics standpoint, we can say that the country mouse has utility curve that puts heavy emphasis on loss aversion — because it feels a loss more acutely than a gain.
The town mouse is the opposite of the country mouse — it weights gains far more than losses.
Said differently, the town mouse is more comfortable with variability — and thus periods of negative utility — if the net outcome is positive.
Whereas the country mouse would prefer a steadier utility curve that is less positive in magnitude relative to the town mouse, but always in the positive nonetheless.
Which Mouse Am I?
I honestly teeter back and forth on which mouse I want to be — a life of security or a life of thrills and highs/lows.
In a micro sense, I think about this in regards to my investments. Sometimes, I want to just hold index funds like $SPY; set it and forget it and go on with my life with my nice 5% gains per annum.
Other times, I want to put my entire net worth in crypto — ETH to the moon, baby!
Zooming out, I think about which mouse I am in relation to my job. A cushy life at Facebook working 9-to-5, earning a respectable salary, and spending my free time in other hobbies.
Or starting my own venture — working 70+ hour weeks, paying myself minimum wage with all of the upside/downside exposure in the form of equity.
Where should I live? Especially in a post-covid work where work is permanently remote (for my industry at least).
Do I live in one place for the rest of my life?
Or do I live a quasi-nomadic lifestyle, moving from city to city periodically?
For the first option, I would get all the creature comforts of being rooted— building a foundation of friends in the area, a local bar, a beautiful condo with bespoke renovations to make it just how I like it.
For the second, I’ll have much more novel stimuli — exposure to different cultures, people, languages, ways of living, values.
I remember living in Sydney after college and just opening my eyes to a whole new way of living — whether life is much more relaxed and focused around hobbies vs. the “go go go” and “your work is your identity” mentality of the States.
And I can see myself growing a lot from exposing myself to different ways of thinking by constantly being on the move.
But I sacrifice the feeling of belong somewhere— actually calling a place home and forming long-term relationships with people.
I think I’ll contemplate with this mouse question for the rest of my life.
Right now, especially as the world slowly emerges from Covid, I’m leaning towards being the town mouse. I want to be out and about, having novel experiences, socializing, growing as a person in ways that I wasn’t able to during lock down.
I can see myself getting tired out from that kind of life though, so maybe I just need to get it out of my system and then revert to being a country mouse.
Going back to the behavioral economics, the Pareto optimal strategy is to allocate a proportion to both — which kind of supports the old adage: variety is the spice of life.
Thanks for listening to me reflect and ramble today! The scheduled programming will resume tomorrow :)