Powerful stories have what psychologists call “emotional resonance” – they tap into our based values, beliefs, and experiences. At their best, stories convey deep moral wisdom. Some of the greatest stories told are religious parables, which communicate core values in easily understood ways. But secular parables can be equally effective like this:
A little girl had a ferocious temper. Her mother gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper, she must hammer one nail into the back of a fence. The first day she drove 26 nails into that fence. As the girl learned to control her anger, the number of nails she hammered each day gradually dwindled. It was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day arrived when the girl did not lose her temper once. Her mother then said that everyday she successfully controlled her anger, she should pull one nail from the fence. Weeks later the young girl told her mother that all nails were out. The mother walked her daughter to the fence. She said, “You have done well but look at the holes in the fence! The fence will never be the same. When you say angry things, they leave scars just like these holes.
The value taught by this story is clear: Anger has its consequences.
Years ago, I was consulting for a manufacturing company. The firm had plants spread across North America. The company boss, a man in his sixties, insisted that he travel with me to each plant. On our trip to first site, I noticed him doing something curious. At the airport, after buying a newspaper, he took his change and placed it piece by piece, in the coin-return boxes of the pay phones. My first thought was that he wanted to avoid setting off the metal detectors at the security gate. But we were already beyond security. So, I noticed, he had an interesting quirk.
A week later, we were traveling together again. This time we were waiting for a delayed flight at Chicago O’Hare International airport. My companion went into the shop near our gate an bought a newspaper. Returning, he strolled past a bank of pay phones and again dropped his change into the coin-return boxes – a quarter in one, a penny in another and a nickel in a third. Once he sat down, I asked him why he did this. “Watch the phones”, he said. Minutes later a couple walked by the phones with a three-or four-year old girl between them. The child looked exhausted. She suddenly sat down almost in tears. The father headed off in search of a treat while the mother soothed her. Soon the little girl spied the phones. What does any child do with pay phones? Od-course she reached up and started checking their coin-return boxes. IN the first, she found a nickel, in the next a penny, in the third a quarter. IN less than a minute. she went from a cranky, whiny youngster to a child wreathed in smiles. I turned to my friend and said that’s nice. And he replied, “Yeah it doesn’t cost much to make a person happy.” To this day, when I pass one of those remaining pay phones in airports, I think of his simple generosity.