Years ago, I was told the following parable. It’s as relevant today to all of us as it was to me back then.
The story goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a king of a vast kingdom who decided to throw a party with all the food and drink you could have.
To eat and drink all you wanted, there was only one condition. You had to wear a suit made of bamboo (the suits don’t bend).
First, he invited the rich. They came and many hours later left starving and dehydrated having eaten and drunk nothing.
Then he invited the wisest. They too left starving and dehydrated having eaten and drunk nothing.
This went on for each group of people in his kingdom until he invited ‘the poor’.
The poor ate and drunk their fill and left content.
When asked by the others how did they manage to eat and drink wearing the bamboo suits, they answered simply … we didn’t try to eat and drink ourselves … we fed each other.
Life lessons applied
This parable has stuck with me all through my life and I apply it in everything I do.
In business –
With your customers, employees and suppliers (if you work for yourself) – does your business exist to ‘feed’ your employees, customers and suppliers? … or
does it exist to ‘feed’ yourself?
Do you expect your employees, your customers and your suppliers to ‘feed’ you when you’re not ‘feeding’ them?
In work relationships:
In your relationship with your employer (if you work for someone) – are you ‘feeding’ your employer? … or
are you just trying to ‘feed’ yourself?
Do you expect your employer to ‘feed’ you when you’re not ‘feeding’ them?
In personal relationships:
In your relationship with your significant other, your friends and family – are you ‘feeding’ your significant other, your friends and family? … or
are you trying to ‘feed’ yourself?
Do you expect your significant other, your friends and family to ‘feed’ you when you’re not ‘feeding’ them?
When I look at the world around me … for the most part, too many people expect everyone else to ‘feed’ them and get upset when no one does. Despite the fact they themselves aren’t doing anything to ‘feed’ the world around them. In the parable, it’s like one person ‘feeding’ another, and the person being ‘fed’ doesn’t ‘feed’ others in return. Selfish!
Now I know that even if the world appears selfish for the most part, people, in general, are not.
Due to life’s circumstances, some people feel forced to look after themselves because no one else is helping to look after them … or no one has helped them to learn how to help others and/or how to be helped.
Take this cliché for example –
men, in general, think asking for help is a sign of weakness.
So helping others and being helped may not be ‘easy‘ for some.
you may not know what others like to eat/drink – you don’t want to be ‘feeding’ them whipped cream when they hate whipped cream – yuk!!
others may not know what you like to eat/drink – you don’t want others ‘feeding’ you shellfish if you’re allergic to shellfish
you may not trust others to ‘feed’ you – they may have wronged you in the past; you may think they will wrong you again
others may not trust you – you may have wronged others in the past, or others may think you will wrong them again
you may be hungry/thirsty today and need food/drink now so you can’t wait around for others to get around to help you
– others may be hungry/thirsty today and need food/drink today and they can’t wait
Feeding others may mean having to put the past behind you. Forgiving others. Forgiving yourself. Trusting others. These can be difficult things for any of us to do.
But is this more difficult than doing nothing different and accepting whatever challenges life continues to throw at you? Who knows? I don’t know you and what’s most important to you so I’m in no position to answer that question for you.
What I do know
I know with absolute certainty that life doesn’t care which of these choices you make – help others … or … help yourself.
Whatever you decide, you’re still going to face challenges, difficulties, and opportunities to learn and grow.
The question is, which would you prefer?
The challenges, difficulties, opportunities that come from:
Accepting the world as it is – helping yourself; you eat/drink what you get; you have to look after yourself; no one has your back
Striving for your better world – helping others to help you; we all eat and drink what we need; we all look after each other; everyone has everyone’s back
If your choice is to contribute to making your world a better place, then the first thing you must do is to stop blaming others for not ‘feeding’ you and instead start asking yourself:
How can I ‘feed’ others? and
How can I help others ‘feed’ me?
You can do this by starting with finding out what’s most important to you and to others around you – for example:
Help your customers buy from you by offering them what they want at a price they’re willing to pay.
Find out what’s most important to your customers
Make sure your products/services deliver on what’s most important to your customers (i.e. solves whatever problems they have)
Make sure whatever benefits your customer gets from your products or services is greater than what you expect them to pay (and that’s more than it costs you to deliver your product or service)
Help your employees choose you as an employer of choice (rather than just a bum on a seat earning a dollar to pay their bills)
Give employees a reason to pick you as an employer other than just receiving a pay cheque
Stand for something and make sure your actions match what you say you stand for
Listen to your employees and help them achieve whatever goals they have – provide courses/support that may be outside your business
Allow for give and take (trust) and deal with anyone quickly that abuses that trust
Lead/support your employees by giving them what they need to help you
Help your suppliers sell to you what you need for your customers at a price that works for your customers and you
Listen to your suppliers needs
Consider your suppliers needs in any changes to services/supplies you order from them
Help suppliers to help you with whatever you need (but remember it’s their business not yours)
Help your significant other, your friends and family with whatever is most important to them
Ask them what’s most important to them and find ways to deliver that to show them they’re important to you
Choose your friends and significant others carefully – if they expect you to ‘feed’ them but never ‘feed’ you then you’ve got a problem
Share what’s most important to you to your significant other, friends and family so they know how to support you
Mind-reading (it’s not a thing!)
You’ll notice a common theme above – in every case you have to let everyone know what’s most important to you. And you have to listen to what’s most important to everyone in your life/business (not what you think is most important to them).
Whether or not you are important to others will be shown by how much people help you with what’s most important to you (i.e. what and how much they ‘feed’ you). How you contribute to what’s most important to others will show others how important they are to you (what and how much you ‘feed’ others).
If you ignore what they share, and don’t ‘feed’ them what they want, they’re going to look elsewhere for help in their lives and they probably won’t ‘feed’ you.
Be like BAND AID and feed the world
If you want your better world, then it all starts with you.
You can’t wait for your government, your employees, your partner, your friend/family, your employer, or anyone else to ‘feed’ you.