21st Century Wisdom from an Old West African Folktale

21st Century Wisdom from an Old West African Folktale

The Traveler<Play podcast>

Most of the stories I share here are both true and original stories I’ve written based on the interviews I conduct with leaders all around the world. But today’s story is neither true, nor original. But I think you’ll find just as much wisdom in it anyway. It contains one of my favorite lessons to help an organization maintain healthy, collaborative relationships in today’s modern diverse workplaces. It’s my adaptation of an old West African folk tale called “The Traveler.”

Once there was a wise, elderly man. . .

. . . who spent his days just outside his village sitting under a shady tree where he would think. One day, a traveler came up to him and said, “Old man, I have traveled far. I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me, if I go into this village, what kind of people will I meet there?”

The wise man replied, “Yes, I’d be happy to tell you. But first, tell me what kind of people you’ve met in your travels so far.”

The traveler responded, “Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. I have met the most awful people! People who are selfish and unkind to strangers. People who don’t care for themselves or one another. I’ve met foolish young people I could learn nothing from, and old people whose lack of hope depresses everyone they meet.”

As the traveler spoke, a look of sadness grew in the wise man’s eyes as he nodded in a knowing way. “Yes,” he said. “I believe I know exactly the kind of people you speak of. And I’m sorry to tell you, but if you go into my village, I’m afraid that’s exactly the kind of people you’ll meet.”

“I knew it!” the traveler scoffed. “It’s always the same.” He kicked the dirt under his feet and stormed off down the road, without ever bothering to stop in the village.

A few hours later, another traveler came upon the wise man.

“Kind sir,” he said, “I have traveled far. I have seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me, if I go into this village, what kind of people will I meet there?”

The wise man replied, “Yes, I’d be happy to tell you. But first, tell me what kind of people you’ve met in your travels so far.”

The traveler responded, “Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. I have met the most amazing people! People who are kind and generous to strangers; people who care for one another like family. I’ve met young people with a wisdom beyond their years, and I’ve met older people with a youthful passion for life that brings joy to everyone they meet. And I have learned much from all of them.”

This time, as the traveler spoke, the wise man smiled brightly as he nodded in a knowing way. “Yes,” he said. “I believe I know exactly the kind of people you speak of. And I’m happy to tell you, if you go into my village, I’m certain that’s exactly the kind of people you’ll meet.”

“Come then,” said the traveler, “and introduce me to them.”

The lesson

The lesson, of course, is that what we see in people is determined, in large part, by what we expect to find. So when you go to wherever it is you work tomorrow, and you’re meeting with your team, your peers, your customers, even your boss, look for in them the traits you’d most like to see, and I believe that’s exactly what you’ll find there.

[You can find this and over 100 other inspiring leadership stories in my book, Lead with a Story.]

PAS square profile Paul Smith is a 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 Story and Parenting with a Story.

ParentingWthStoryCOVER smallLeadwithaStoryConnect with him via email here.

Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.

Sign up for his newsletter here to get one new story a week delivered to your inbox.

 

2 Responses

  1. the story is interesting

  2. One of my fave tales and completely rings true! I’ve just been speaking about this with several people; we see what we focus upon and look for. Here’s to seeing the kindness and compassion that exists all around us! Hugs from my heart to yours! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.