Design the world from circuits

The Man in the Well

with 6 comments

I was caught by Ira Sher’s fiction “The Man in the Well”, first published in the Chicago Review just 14 years ago (exactly). It was originally aired on “This American Life”, as part of the series called “The Cruelty of Children“, on 06.21.1996.

The man in the well understood. The man in the well didn’t speak anything.

Please download the full article HERE or view it online.


A group of children find a man stuck in a well. The man asks them to tell their parents for help, while they choose to lie. Children bring him food, keeping him in the well and talking to the strange man. Later as he learns their names, they grow afraid and uncomfortable, and ultimately they abandon the man, leaving him alone in despair.

The Man and the Children

It’s definitely more than cruelty.

Do the children have the responsibility to save the strange man? They do not know the man’s name or the man’s appearance, an absolute stranger in their minds. They have foresee no explicit punishments from not saving the man. What to expect if I save this man? They do not know law and kindness. Since it’s not obliged, then why should I make efforts which sound not so interesting and a waste of time and energy?

“Is it going to rain?”

The man and kids keep their conversation meaningless. It’s “unfair” for the man, who is trapped in the deep well with restricted view of the outside. He is expecting help which doesn’t exist actually, all made up from the children. On the other hand, the kids are just curious about the well and the man. They keep asking questions and give him food for life. At least they are making efforts to sustain his life, also irrelevant to themselves. It’s just the nature.

The man is trapped, eager to catch all the information. When he learns the names of the children, he also starts to figure out the lie. First unconsciously then on purpose, he drives a wedge between this children.

Are children born little monsters? Not likely in my mind. The man breaks the equilibrium between the relationship; children are in horror. From that time on, there are few chances that the man would be saved by this group of children. Of course It’s the man’s last resort, but also the worse one, turning the well into hell.

The Power of Name

* Why is it easier for the children in the story to be unkind when the man doesn’t know who they are?

* Why does using someone’s name have such a powerful effect? (Follow up: Why is it important to learn the names of your peers?)

* How can people identify themselves without using their names?

* How does the power balance shift when the man starts calling names?

(Questions from Using the Man in the Well in Gifted Advisory by Alex Sharp)

Everyone is a stranger to the world. Only by names people are able to identify individuals. Identification should be done on both side to keep the relation balanced. People with less information always act aggressively, making a potential threat to the others. And people with more information are acting actively as they are holding the advantageous position in the conversation, just like the children in the beginning. However, after their names are public knowledge, they feel threatened by the man. The problem is, the man who know more names is incapable to make any actions. Children decided to quit not because of their meanness, but because of the broken balance.

Also, they are neither trusting nor trusted any more between this group. It’s an accident, but it’s the fact.

I will never go back.


Copyright & Disclaimer

Alex Sharp at suite101 owns the online rights of “Using the Man in the Well in Gifted Advisory” [].

Interested readers might refer to Gifted Education for more insightful articles and discussions.


Written by monoself

September 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Hi,

    Thanks for mentioning “Using the Man in the Well in Gifted Advisory”. Because Suite101 owns the online rights, I am going to ask that you provide a link back to the article and standard citation (

    I am so happy that you found the questions useful, and I think you have wonderful insight into the story.

    Alex Sharp

    November 29, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    • Thank you for the notice.
      I’m extremely sorry for the unauthorized use of the article before. I have just added the link and a disclaimer accordingly.

      Please contact me for any other possible impropriety. And thanks again for your great questions.


      November 30, 2009 at 3:16 am

  2. hi everybody

    just signed up and wanted to say hello while I read through the posts

    hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read.

    Spanish John

    April 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

  3. Dear friends,

    My name is Adelina. I am a 22 years girl from Italy. I was looking for a free translation software and I found one.

    Program’s name is Babel Fish and iIt supports 75 languages. I installed it but I could not understand how to use it. I am not a computer expert. Can someone help me please on how to run this.

    The link is here:

    I thank you very much for your help.


    April 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

  4. You have tested it and writing form your personal experience or you find some information online?


    April 19, 2010 at 10:49 am

  5. I have not checked in here for a while since I thought it
    was getting boring, but the

    last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you
    back to my everyday bloglist.

    You deserve it friend 🙂


    May 12, 2013 at 3:04 am

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