Here's a Russian folktale that Robert Kegan shared at a recent gathering:
On a bitter cold winter day, on his way to chop wood, a woodsman came across a little bird almost frozen in the snow. Despite his hurry to accomplish the task at hand, he just couldn't bring himself to leave the little bird to freeze to death, so he picked it up gently and held it close to his chest to warm it.
As he stood there warming the little bird, he realized that his impulse to rescue the little bird now posed quite a dilemma: how was he going to get his wood chopped while holding a small bird in his hands? There he stood, pondering what to do, when he noticed steam rising from the snow in the distance where a herd of cattle had been.
In that instant, he knew what to do.
Venturing across a frozen field, he found the largest pile of steaming, fresh, fragrant cow dung that he could find and created a little opening in the middle. Then, very gently, he placed the little bird in the center and went on with his day.
The little bird, warm in its new fertile nest, thawed fully alive and began to sing. Its song traveled through the forest to the ears of a fox who followed the song back to the little bird and ate it.
As you can well imagine, there were many crest-fallen faces in the audience at this point.
Then, Robert Kegan shared the three morals of this little tale:
- The person who picks you up and rescues you is not necessarily your friend.
- The person who places you in a pile of shit is not necessarily your enemy.
- If you find yourself in a big, stinking mess, don't sing so loudly.
And I will add that if you ever have the occasion to learn with Robert Kegan, do. You won't regret it.