A fox crept up to a vine. He gazed longingly at the fat, purple, overripe grapes. He placed his front paws against the trunk of the vine, stretched his neck, and tried to get at the fruit, but it was too high. Irritated, he tried his luck again. He launched himself upward, but his jaw snapped only at fresh air. A third time he leap with all his might – so powerfully that he landed back down on the ground with a thud. Still not a single leaf had stirred. The fox turned up his nose: “These grapes aren’t even ripe yet. Why would I want sour grapes?” Holding his head high, he strode back into the forest.
The Greek poet Aesop created this fable to illustrate one of the most common errors in our reasoning. An inconsistency arose when the fox set out to do something and failed to accomplish it. He can resolve this conflict in one of three ways: (a) by doing something to get the grapes, (b) by admitting that his skills are insufficient, or (c) by reinterpreting what happened retrospectively. He picked the last option.
We sometimes like the fox. We tell little lies to ourselves and we believe them. Suppose you apply for a job and discover you have lost out to another candidate. Instead of admitting that the other person was better suited, you convince yourself that you didn’t want the job in the first place; you simply wanted to test your “market value” and see if you could get invited for interview.
When the share we invested is not performing well, we convince ourselves that it still has the potential to bounce back. But the “potential” will be even greater if we had postponed the purchase of the share until today. There is nothing wrong to find excuses to make us feel better. But sometimes we need to get real. You can play the clever fox all you want – but you’ll never get the grapes that way.
If at times you feel you want to cry
And life seems such a trial
Above the clouds there’s a bright blue sky
So make your tears a smile
– Alexandra Skiathitis
Life is like a mirror, we get the best results when we smile at it. It takes 64 muscles of the face to make a frown, and only 13 to make a smile. Why the extra effort?
– Originally published in July 2012
In the days before e-mail and telemarketing, traveling salesmen went door-to-door peddling their wares. One day, a particular salesman, George, stood at a front door. The house transpired to be vacant, and one thing he didn’t know, a tiny leak had been filling it with gas for weeks. The bell was also damaged, so when he pressed it, it created a spark and the house exploded.
Poor George ended up in the hospital, but fortunately he was soon back on his feet. Unfortunately, his fear of ringing doorbells had become so strong that he couldn’t carry out his job for many years. He knew how unlikely a repeat of the incident was, but for all he tried, he just couldn’t manage to reverse the emotional connection.
Our brain is a connection machine. This is quite practical: If we eat an unknown fruit and feel sick afterward, we avoid it in future, labeling the fruit poisonous or at least unpalatable. This is how knowledge comes to be. These false connections influences the quality of our decisions. Experience can sometimes damage our judgement. Like advertising, it creates a link between products and emotions. You will never see Coke alongside a frowning face or a wrinkly body. Coke people are young, beautiful, and oh so fun, and they appear in clusters not seen in the real world.
We often condemn bearers of bad news, since we automatically associate them with the message’s content. Like my project manager unconsciously steer clear of all the issues, so the only news that reaches the senior management and customers is positive, thus creating a distorted view of the project. The take-home message from all this is phrased most adequately by Mark Twain:
“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it – and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again – and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”
Two monks lived together in a monastery for many years; they were great friends. Then they died within a few months of one another. One of them got reborn in the heaven realms, the other monk got reborn as a worm in a mud pile.
The one up in the heaven realms was having a wonderful time, enjoying all the heavenly pleasures. But he started thinking about his friend, “I wonder where my old mate has gone?” So he scanned all of the heaven realms, but could not find his friend. Then he scanned the realm of human beings, but he could not see any trace of his friend there, so he looked in the realm of animals and then of insects. Finally he found him, reborn as a worm in a mud pile. “Wow!” He thought: “I am going to help my friend. I am going to go down there to that mud pile and take him up to the heavenly realm so he too can enjoy the heavenly pleasures and bliss of living in these wonderful realms.”
So he went down to the mud pile and called his mate. And the little worm wriggled out and said: “Who are you?”
“I am your friend. We used to be monks together in a past life, and I have come up to take you to the heaven realms where life is wonderful and blissful.”
But the worm said: “Go away, get lost!”
“But I am your friend, and I live in the heaven realms,” and he described the heaven realms to his friend. But the worm said: “No thank you, I am quite happy here in my mud pile. Please go away.”
Then the heavenly being thought: “Well if I could only just grab hold of him and take him up to the heaven realms, he could see for himself.” So he grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging at him; and the harder he tugged, the harder that worm clung to his pile of mud.
Do you get it? How many of us are attached to our pile of mud and feel comfortable?
– Originally published in June 2012
Health, happiness and success depend upon the fighting spirit of each person. The big thing is not what happens to us in life – but what we do about it when it happens to us.
– George H. Allen
– Originally published in June 2012
When you thought I wasn’t looking you hung my first painting on the refrigerator.
And I wanted to paint another one.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you fed a stray cat.
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you baked a birthday cake just for me.
And I knew that little things were special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you kissed me good-night.
And I felt safe and loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you made a meal and took it to a friend who was sick.
And I learned that we all have to help take care of each other.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you gave your time and money to help people who had nothing.
And I learned that those who have something should give to those who don’t.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I saw tears come from your eyes.
And I learned that sometimes things hurt but that it’s alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you smiled.
And it made me want to look that pretty too.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you cared.
And I wanted to be a good and productive person like you when I grow up.
When you thought I wasn’t looking …
I learned most of life’s lessons that I need to know.
And I wanted to say thank you for all those things you did when you thought I wasn’t looking.
– Originally published in June 2012