Sometimes the simplest lessons stick around the longest

I can’t even tell you when I first saw this. Could have been an advert (although I don’t remember the brand it was about) or it could have been a story I was told and my intense imagination filled the pictures in vividly enough for me to remember it so clearly now.

Yet somehow it’s stuck with me, for maybe 20 years.

Imagine yourself in the streets of New Delhi, Bangalore, Calcutta, anything like that. A dad is sitting with his two teenage boys and is about to give them a seemingly impossible task. He hands them each $1 (or an equally small amount in Rupees but for the sake of the story, let’s stick to $1). He points to an empty room with one door and no windows. It’s probably the size of an average bedroom and he tells his sons that they need to spend that $1 and fill the entire room, by nightfall. As any young boy would do, they want to impress their dad and off the sprint into the city’s market.

What happens next shows how two people from the same bloodline, with the same upbringing and possibly the same level of education solve problems differently.

We cut to one boy hauling bales and bales of straw to this empty room and then running back to fetch more. It seems he managed to buy a lot and all through his back-and-forth seems quite impressed with himself. When we catch up with the other boy, he’s bought himself a chocolate or a sweet and is sitting on the steps watching his brother sweat it out, with a smirk of course.

Immediately when I saw that (or imagined it in my mind, who knows?!) for the first time I got upset with the 2nd boy. It seemed to be that he didn’t care of his father’s task and rather chose to enjoy a treat instead. For anybody who knows me, that sort of stuff makes my blood boil.

Eventually nightfall arrives and the dad takes his two boys into the room. In the corner is an impressive pile of hay bales. Unfortunately they in no way fill the entire room and the 1st boy is clearly ashamed or embarrassed or something. Dad turns to 2nd boy (let’s picture him with chocolate stains on his mouth) and just as dad is about to get mad at the boy, like I would have for being an indignant little shit, he puts his hands in his pocket and pulls out a candle and a match. Then he bends down and strikes the match on the concrete floor, lighting the candle and in turn, filling the whole room with light.

Gob-smacked.

So what’s the lesson here?

I’d be lying if I knew the actual life-lesson of this story/metaphor. Somehow I don’t think it really matters. I’ve remembered it for so long and often go back to that story, so it must have made an impact in my life.

I think it’s altered the way I look at problem solving and that’s a good thing no matter which way you look at it.