I enjoy a good story, and I really like those that teach a lesson I can understand. I remember reading Aesop’s Fables as a child, and I can still recall a picture of a fox leaping for a bunch of grapes that were hanging just beyond the highest point he could reach. The fox trotted away from the grapes muttering, “Those grapes were sour and not as ripe as I thought.” I can think of a number of times in my life where my initial reaction to my own failure was to make an excuse or look for something to blame. I also know that I have been guilty of letting events influence my attitude toward life; forgetting that my reason for being here is independent of what happens to me. The following story illustrates this point nicely:
“A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.”
A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.”
Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.”
Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.”
(As told by Chin-Ning Chu, in “The Asian Mind Game: unlocking the hidden agenda of the Asian business culture – a westerner’s survival manual,” New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, page 182. (1991))
I’m reading a book at the moment that details world economic problems and predicts worse to come. The book was apparently inspired by a young Wall Street trader who saw opportunity in the housing bubble and made a fortune by betting on economic collapse. He sees further opportunity in future misery and has advised his mother to buy “guns and gold.”
The young financial whiz is offering a prescription for happiness based on the notion of protecting yourself and your things. He may or may not be right about what the future will bring, but investing in things that have little or no inherent value is no guarantor of happiness. Last week’s column was a story about a wealthy man who bought silver bars and hid them in his garage. He died without telling anyone about his investment, and it was only the kindness of a complete stranger that allowed the wealthy man’s family access to his money. I wonder who really gained the most from the old man’s decision to buy silver bars and squirrel them away.
I think it’s a good idea to prepare for the future by keeping abreast of what’s happening in the world, avoiding debt, maintaining some savings, protecting your health, and keeping some emergency supplies on hand for your family. I also think it’s a good idea to separate your happiness from events and recognize that what may happen to you is often beyond your control. Sometimes the grapes are sour, and that’s the way it is.