Wednesday, December 08, 2004

R.C., Whisky, and Soup: A Parable

Once upon a time there was a little boy -- let's call him R.C. R.C. was not the handsomest boy, nor the fastest boy, nor even the smartest boy he knew, but he was young and full of dreams and potential. He was determined to make his mark on the world, and change things for the better. There was just one problem: R.C. wasn't popular with his peers.

He wasn't sure why this was the case. Before he tried to interact with anyone, he had first observed their ways from a distance, and then tried to emulate them. He wore the same clothes they did, talked about the same things, and bought the same toys. He tried to go to their parties, and threw ones for the other boys. On the surface, he did everything just like them, but somehow he never really became "cool" or popular. Everyone was polite to his face, and happily accepted his gifts and hospitality, but nobody seemed to actually like him for himself, and some went so far as to say mean things about him behind his back.

Meanwhile, his schoolwork suffered, and some of the children began to openly talk about how far behind he was, even calling him "slow" and "ugly". Finally, he determined that something had to change. He would do something, anything to make a difference.

It was on that same day that he ran into one of the other kids, a new student who the kids called "Whisky" or "Three three three" for some reason. 333 wasn't spectacularly popular, but he wasn't unpopular either, especially for a new kid. R.C. didn't know him very well, as they were in different classes altogether. But on this day, something was different. Gathering his determination, R.C. took 333 aside, and asked frankly for his help.

333 looked thoughtful for a moment. "I know just the thing. Here." 333 pulled a little book out of his backpack, and placed it in R.C.'s tiny hands. R.C. looked down at it. "Stone Soup", was the title. Puzzled, R.C. sat down and began to read. The story was about a far-off land where famine had made the people hungry, and a wandering peddler uses a stone and a pot to convince them to share their meager scraps, thus creating a feast that feeds them all.

"I don't understand. What does this have to do with me?"

333 smiled. "Three things. First, you're not the only person in the world who wants to make a difference -- everybody does. Second, people need to understand how they can contribute to your vision -- and it needs to be a strong enough vision to overcome their apathy, distrust, or just plain lack of focus. Third, people will take whatever you want to give them, but the taste they love the most, is the taste of something they helped to make."

"Or, to put it another way... before you can feed the hunger for results, you must first feed the hunger for contribution. The strongest way to build a relationship, is to ask for someone's help. And the only way to change the world, is together... but usually it starts with just one person, asking."

"Oh... and one more thing. In fact, in practical terms it might be the most important thing of all, even though it's not at all poetic or idealistic-sounding. If the peddler had brought vegetables or meat, but not a pot, there would have been no soup. If he had a highly polished stone, but the pot was too small, there would have been no soup."

"So, if you have a limited budget, but must eat soon, you must focus on having a usable pot -- a container that will hold the ingredients that others will bring. Even if all you have to put in the pot is a useless stone, don't worry. That's what the villagers are for! There are a lot more of them, than there are of you."

(Please note that comments containing guesses as to what R.C. stands for will be deleted, regardless of whether the guess is right, wrong, or merely joking around. Just enjoy the story for what it is: a consolidation of my learning from the process of writing PEP 333, using an unrelated situation as the jumping-off point for an article.)