Some time ago, a poor but wise young man walked into a village and began helping the villagers out in their daily lives. He showed up every day to answer their questions and would often give talks that encouraged, inspired, and empowered them.
Since he had no place to stay, the villagers began to shelter him and allowed him to eat at their dinner table. His gratitude at receiving their gifts was matched by their gratitude of receiving his.
When the young man walked through the village, people would run up to him, happy to see him and often bearing gifts. When he went to shops, the shopkeepers would give him discounts or free goods, and people would let him have their place in line.
Because of the abundance that he shared with them, the small village grew into a prosperous town. After years of him staying in their homes and eating at their tables, the townsfolk decided to honor him as a Sage and built a home for him. He was humbled but graciously accepted the gift.
The town continued to grow, as did the Sage’s renown. He found himself increasingly annoyed that people were interrupting his time and knocking on his door, even though he still found gifts and warmth on his doorstep. He started asking himself: “Why do these people keep bothering me? Don’t they know I need some quiet time?”
At a certain point, he became overwhelmed and had had enough of their intrusion. He built a large wall around his home with two entrances; one entrance was a sturdy gate that only he could open, and the other was a maze that no one but his trusted friends and loved ones knew how to make their way through.
This shocked the townspeople, but they loved their Sage. They accepted that he needed his quiet time, and they soon found other ways to spend their time.
As time went on, the Sage would open his gates, and fewer and fewer people would be waiting to come through. When they did come, they didn’t bear gifts the way they used to, and the Sage soon began worrying about how he would keep up with his estate. To ease his worry, he let it be known to the townsfolk that they had to bring a gift with them if they wanted to come through his gates.
They still loved their Sage so they continued to exchange their gifts for his teachings, but attendance dwindled. People began to question the value of his teachings, and though they didn’t dare speak out publicly, many people decided that it was no longer worth their effort to go and hear the Sage speak.
One day, the Sage opened his gates and no one was there. He walked out into the town and no one ran up to greet him. He walked into shops and the shopkeepers no longer gave him discounts; the townspeople treated him with the same indifference that he showed them. He had more acclaim and possessions than he had ever had in his life, but the spring of his abundance was all but dried up.
And that is how a wealthy sage becomes a poor hermit.
I loved this story! What parallels can we make against our real-life ‘Sages’. I thought for sure you were going to name a celebrity or well-known person at the end. 🙂
Makes you wonder about the cycle of life, too. He started off a poor hermit and then became one again at the end of his life. I wonder if he learned the lesson or perhaps went to the next small town and discovered a new audience? I would like to be optimistic that he learned a valuable life lesson.
Very thought-provoking story and one that has me still thinking about it.
How cool to see a riches-to-rags story instead of the ubiquitous rags to riches! Especially when riches to rags is likely inevitable while the opposite isn’t.
A wonderful tale, a sensible warning, too. Big thanks.
Karen Sharp says
I agree with the other Karen, very thought-provoking. And it raises a valid point, for the sage. Because the sage’s problem is legitimate. Being over-burdened and depleted by other people’s needs is real, and to my mind the sage’s desire to somehow moderate his energy and time and resources, is warranted.
So the question this raises, to me, is how to write a different story. How to maybe cultivate more sages in the village. How to distribute the sage’s wisdom a little more “offline”, so that he doesn’t have to give his personal time to each request the same way. How to empower the villagers to support themselves and each other a little more.
I don’t think the sage is looking to exploit anything, nor is anyone IRL doing a similar thing. I don’t think Charlie is telling a story of exploitation. I think the sage would be happy to somehow receive a little less, if it meant a more consistent incoming resource-stream.
Hmm. Or maybe, actually, sadly, the story of exploitation is the village exploiting and consuming the sage, and then tossing him out when he is depleted.
How do we transform this into a story of sustainability? Rather than a story of two-way depletion (because the village loses too, when they stop coming around to the sage)? How do we keep the mutual flow of resources going?
Thanks, Charlie. Very interesting.
Now that made me stop and think. I’ve seen that happen. Hmm.
Now Karen is a thinker, I like that 🙂
It seems that we should have caution and not make promises we cannot keep in the long run. In this case it was an implied promise. He never came to the village announcing that he would gladly and tirelessly answer their questions and be available constantly, if only they would construct a house for him.
But as time progressed, he accepted their increasingly generous gifts in repayment for his kindness. But then the expectation is that he will continue what he does, and with the increased value of the gifts, continue to do so without complaint. There is now a two way debt that is out of control.
What if he refused the house, drawing the line there? Could he have maintained balance, sending the message to the villagers that there is a limit and a balance in their trade.
If you are an internet mover and shaker and promise to respond to everyone all the time, and then do not follow through or fail to deliver, then folks will not respond well to it. Boundaries of give and take need to be established early and perhaps we get overeager in trying to please everyone all the time. There is an old saying about that isn’t there?
I’ve been keeping out of the comments because I like the discussion y’all are having and I don’t want to steer anything, but I just wanted to say 1) thank you for commenting and 2) this was an awesome and thought-provoking comment. Thanks for giving the story so much consideration and opening up this conversational thread in new ways.
Janice Cartier says
One way would be to recognize um..a more spherical approach…that perhaps space and distance and time are ESSENTIAL contributors to the whole that benefit everyone. Those are built in considerations to sageness.
umm… this might just be me, but instead of building a wall, why didn’t he just tell the villagers to give him some down time? Or go off for a walk in the forest for a few hours every day? Or hire a secretary?
See fables are all nice, but life is a lot more fun and fulfilling when you can make small practical actions to effect large changes.
Jonathan Mead says
This is one obvious solution, and perhaps the most practical too.
Tell people what you need.
I’m always surprised at how often this works. For example, I was getting frustrated with my wife for continually interrupting me this morning when I was writing. She just wanted to share the morning with me and let me know what was going on in her world. There was nothing wrong with that, but since I didn’t express to her that I would appreciate some space to write, I wasn’t getting it. So I just told her that I would like to do some writing for a couple of hours and would appreciate the space. Guess what? She gave it to me, and completely understood.
I think this works when scaled, but there will always be some people that are hurt and won’t understand. They take your busyness or need for space as a personal offense. And I’m not sure you can do much about that.
Janice Cartier says
(@Basu cool “dragon curve” art you made)
This is a great story. I found your site from the EBK. Glad to have found it too. I will be following now as well as signing up for the newsletter.
Archan Mehta says
Thanks for a fabulous post.
Now, why does this sound like the story of my life. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Only in my case, it is more like a rags-to-rags story. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Yeah, this is what happens when a person gets too big for his/her boots.
On the other hand, it is equally true that people don’t leave you alone when you get to be rich and famous.
Celebrities have to escape daily from autograph-hunters, publicity seekers, paparazzi, journalists, stalkers, etc.
It’s not a nice feeling when your privacy is invaded all the time by perfect strangers.
Truth and reality ought to be viewed from several angles. Cheers!
Chris Elliott says
What a great parable for many bloggers. It highlights the pitfall of developing a fan following based on free content.
The answer to me is that the sage can still provide the same free advice, but offer other services for a fee. Many “sages” do this well while others fall into the same trap your sage fell into.
Hello Charlie, I just found your site by way of the EBK. This is a great parable with a valuable lesson. No matter how big we get, we must always remember to continually engage with those who helped us along the way.
I think the problem is lack of communication really. Could he have not put up a sign with visiting hours?
I think many times instead of telling people what is on our mind we assume they know or can read our minds. Often when we do tell people what we are thinking they had no idea.
Makes you think.
Sean Smitham says
Great post and parable. I enjoyed reading the comments as well. The great value of a parable is that it can speak to many and meet them where they are at in regards to major concerns and considerations. So the story lives in our interaction with it. Read it again at a later date, and a different valuable lesson appears.
To me, the story made me think about who it is I most want to be; clearly communicating that and being consistent in how I show up in the world. Clear communication, consistency, and compassionate respect (for self and others) is doubtless how the sage began to build a reputation and how he was able to dispense valuable wisdom in the beginning. That wisdom has value only in relation to others – to connecting with them directly and meeting them in their current circumstances. In my reading of the story, I didn’t hear a theme of exploitation but one of a teacher who strayed from his own teachings, and thus his teachings lost value. “It is not what is inside us that matters most, rather it is our actions that define us.” (thank-you Rachel Dawes from Batman the Beginning).
I’m becoming disenchanted with the “content craze” in the Blogos and Twittersphere. To many people focusing on “stuff” instead of creating a context in which the “stuff” is valuable. It is the “context” not the “stuff” that people value most. In the context of a relationship, stuff becomes more valuable – knowledge/experience becomes wisdom (applied knowledge). In the absence of that relationship, knowledge is just words products are just stuff. And as Seth Godin has pointed out time and again Google and Amazon can do each better.
So, the take home message I got from this parable on this reading – it’s the relationship, Stupid. (Stupid is a self-reference to me, not anyone else.) Thank you for providing such a powerful tool for self-reflection, Charlie. Yours in peace, love and light. Namaste. – Sean
I enjoyed reading this parable, as well as the many thoughtful comments. It’s interesting how many perspectives and interpretations can be had from this short, profound story!
When I first read the parable, I thought the trouble with the sage was that he began expecting the gifts and assuming he deserved all of it. I thought his downfall was along the lines of someone who starts out generous but then becomes arrogant and stingy because he starts believing all his own press. It’s what happens sometimes when someone notices the fame they’ve risen to: they begin to think themselves entitled, and they also take their admirers for granted.
But I liked reading the other perspectives other readers had. For instance, maybe he didn’t realize how depleted he’d become and simply needed to create some recreative space. I liked Jonathan Mead’s suggestion that he could simply have asked for what he needed.
This made me think of your take on “Create, Connect, Consume,” too. 🙂
The honor and recognition the sage had received from the people had lured him into the ways of the world. By accepting their gifts and gratitude, he become accustomed to reciprocity and has let go of his humbleness and humility. He has become one with everybody else and his identity has been corrupted.
Indeed, worldly aspiration will never be for eternity. 🙂
I loved this parable.
Did the Sage lose his humbleness? Did the Sage lose connectedness with his followers? Did the Sage need some privacy? Whatever our interpretation of this parable, we can recognize ourselves and acknowledge that we experience different stages in our lives. Change can be scary, painful, or it can be an opportunity to reconnect with our heart and find new meaningful ways to follow our path. Did the Sage found a solution? Did he regained the heart of his followers? Whatever the continuation of the story, it cannot end; it’s another story, it’s another opportunity to grow.
Yael Grauer says
I really enjoyed this post! I thought of it as the sage losing connection to and compassion for the people he was supposed to be helping.
The answer to feeling overwhelmed or depleted should never be to build a maze that only one’s most trusted friends can find their way through.
The townspeople gave him gifts, but this was in light of his encouragement, inspiration and empowerment–freely given. And taking that away will certainly have repercussions. Also, the village needs people with all sorts of talents. His sagely wisdom does not make him better.
If I were to come in contact with a sage (bearing gifts, of course), I would hope that I’d be treated with appropriate consideration instead of just being viewed as an intrusion–when I’m treated that way, it really hurts…and of course, word gets around.
As the writer of this parable, I’m staying out of the comments, as it’ll be too easy for me to steer it. I just wanted to say that I’ve been really jazzed about all the different interpretations and perspectives – thanks for sharing and co-teaching!
Janice Cartier says
Seth Godin mentions first and third circle giving in Linchpin…give to family and friends, give to community…the second circle ( commerce) will stem from both of these ( don’t we love venn diagrams? ) I personally have found this to be true. Since creation comes so naturally and organically for most artists and sages (and maybe mothers) it’s easy to be overly generous…deciding up front where that line is when doing one’s great work is part of the mission statement..something thought out in advance with confidence and generosity, but with preservation and stewardship for the source in mind. If the villagers aren’t cool with that, it’s the wrong village perhaps. Thriving on BOTH sides of the implied contract is what we are after, after all.
A little convo back and forth, this sage and village could come up with reasonable expectations for them all.
I think that sage meets a child outside the gate, they walk together by the river bank . The child offers up the sandwich his mother packed. The sage takes only a small bite, tears a piece off that, reaches in his pocket and pulls out a silken cord. Ties it on and casts the line into the water..where he catches a lovely fish…and they take it back to the village…where a conversation ensues..
The sage’s slippity-slide from grace was expected to me, which tipped the hand to a stumbling block I didn’t know I had. I’m hugely encouraged by y’all’s reinterpretations, options and opportunities, and alternate endings…!
Charlie – Very creative and thought-provoking cautionary tale. Thanks & great job.
Martin Messier says
Just popping by to say: Awesome story!
Thanks, Martin. If “Charlie creation?” is asking whether this is an original story, then, yes, it is.
Either way, I’m glad you liked it.
Jimmy the K says
…and finally, in time, we see; nothing is forever.