The Shared Blanket: Life’s Most Important Lesson in a Single Story

Imagine you had to pick a single sentence to encapsulate all of the world’s knowledge about how we humans should behave. What would it be? What one statement could capture several millennia of history’s best thinkers, philosophers, and prophets on the topic of ethics and morality?

I think you’d be hard pressed to do better than this:

Treat other people the way you’d like to be treated.”

The Golden Rule. And that’s probably why we call it the Golden Rule, and why it shows up in just about every culture that’s existed in some form or another.

But even a statement as pithy and rich with meaning as the Golden Rule pales in comparison to the effectiveness of a good story when it comes to communicating that message in a way that will be understood and heeded by people of all ages.

And that’s why I was thrilled to come across this thirteenth-century French folktale:

“La Couverture partagée” (The shared covering)

There was once a family with three generations living under one roof. And one day, the time came when the grandfather was no longer able to work to help support himself or the household. He’d become a burden on his son and grandchildren.

As was the custom at the time, his son told him that he had to move out. But he wasn’t completely heartless. So, to protect the old man from the cold, he told the oldest grandchild to find a nice warm blanket for the old man to take with him.

The child soon returned with the nicest, warmest blanket in the house, but only half of it. And the father noticed that it had been quickly and crudely torn in two. So, he asked his son, “Why did you keep the other half of the blanket?”

The child responded,

Oh, I’m keeping that for you, Daddy, when it’s your time to go.”

As parents, it’s easy to forget that our children learn much more from what we do than from what we say. So, let this story be a reminder to us all to not only teach our children to be good people, but to live out those principles ourselves. If we treat others the way we want to be treated, they’ll treat us that way. Our children will see that and do likewise.”

As with all of these stories, I encourage you to share this with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What do you think of the father’s decision to send the grandfather out when he could no longer earn his keep?
  2. Do you think he was surprised when his son explained why he only brought back half the blanket? Do you think he might reconsider his decision?
  3. Think about the people you spent time around today. Did you treat each of them the way you would want to be treated?
  4. When do you think it’s appropriate to treat someone differently than you would want them to treat you?

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Source: Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share, by Paul Smith.

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a StoryParenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.

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