In the place I used to work there was a noticeboard. People would put up pictures, memos, and inspirational stories. One day as I walked past a story caught my eye, and I stopped to read it. This is that story...
There was once a wise old man who lived near a small village. He was said to be never wrong, and people would visit him from all over the land to receive his wisdom.
I remember being irritated by the story. A man who is never wrong, "ridiculous!" I thought. And the youth who was so desperate to prove him wrong he was prepared to crush a bird, just seemed callous and shallow. Why was this story here? What was it about?
Was it about the recklessness of youth and the wisdom of old age?
Yes and no...
It also seems to be about something else, something deeper. It can also be seen as a story about personal responsibility. The wise old man in his answer is reminding the youth about the consequences of his actions. In some versions of this story the youth is said to have felt ashamed, which brings home this aspect.
So is it a story about personal responsibility and how we use it?
Yes and no...
Part of my irritation with the story was the seeming impossibility of the knowledge the wise old man had. How did he manage to escape the confines of the choice given him by the youth?
To me at the time this was a mystery.
The answer I discovered, or rather uncovered is in the nature of how we hold knowledge. We often assume that our choices are binary - it's either this or it's that. We are also often given choices in this form,
" Are you coming out with us, or are you going to stay at home on your own?"
When I was training I had to have personal therapy. During these sessions I would present my therapist with my impossible to reconcile either/or choices, and she would gently remind me of the possibility of a third option. At the end of the session, I would leave puzzled as to how I hadn't noticed this third choice, and how it was that she could.
I came to realise I was like the youth in the story. I believed there was only ever two possibilities to any choice - the bird was either alive or dead.
It was a mental straight jacket I had made for myself. The truth was that any choice has multiple possibilities, they are never either/or. Once I saw that, I also understood how the wise old man was able to escape the confines of the youth's question.
So is this story about knowledge, and thinking outside the box?
Yes and no...
This story is about all those things I have talked about, and to you this story may be about something else entirely.
So what is the title all about?
A common saying goes something like this...
There are two sides to every story
I prefer to say,
There are three sides to every story,
My side... your side... and... the other side.
When I am sat with someone, part of my role is to see the story's 'other side'.
main picture by diannehope via Morguefile