Two travelling monks reached a ford in a river where they met a young lady of the night. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders. Together the monks strode through the river until they reached the other side. The monk set the woman down on the other bank. She thanked him and continued her journey.
As the monks continued on their way, one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke with anger. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women—let alone that sort of woman—but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!”
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her”.
We’ve been asked to provide a commentary on this story. The trouble with these Zen stories is that they are supposed to prompt the reader to their own thoughts and musings.
So, before reading our take on this, below, how might this story be relevant to business situations?
My take on this can be illustrated with a (true) story…
Brian and Jeff’s business is still in its early years. Although showing every sign of success, like all businesses in start up it has been vulnerable to untoward events.
Last year, their sole staff member behaved completely out of character—and in a highly damaging way which seriously threatened the existence of the whole business. The staff member left, eventually the situation was sorted out, and the business has returned to its profitable course.
Inevitably, Brian and Jeff were very hurt by this person’s behaviour and found it hard to get over their anger and their feelings of being let down. Jeff, in particular, nursed his sense of betrayal and anger for months. Outwardly calm and professional, inwardly he was seething.
Some months after these events I was talking to Jeff and Brian. Amongst other things in our conversation, I told them the story of the monks and the lady of the night.
And then, a few more months on, I bumped into Jeff. We fell to talking about his business, which was really moving forward now. I asked how he was and he replied that, of all the things I had previously said to him, that story had been the most powerful. It had really enabled him to see that he was carrying his anger long after it was appropriate. He was then able to ask himself whether it was helpful to carry on doing so and he decided to let go of it.
When people nurse these sorts of feelings—grudges, slights, hurts, anger, resentment, bad temper, even illness—they are usually directed at one or other person. Yet, for that person, the precipitating event is long in the past, they have moved on and, in particular, they are not interested in the other person’s feelings on the subject.
The angry person is probably nursing a sense of righteousness (and they probably were right), a belief in the justification of their grievance (and it probably was justified), and a sense in which their anger is an attack on the other person—and boy do they deserve it!
But the other person isn’t there any more. And that was then and this is now.
What Jeff learnt was that it wasn’t the employee who was ‘making him angry’ by their actions. He was making himself angry—and perpetuating it. The only person doing the hurting was himself. But, if he wanted it to stop, all he had to do was choose to drop the anger and discover that it had gone.
Even if (and I don’t believe this) nursing anger is a legitimate activity in one’s personal life, under what circumstances can it possibly be a valid business tactic for the co-owner of a business?
© Jeremy Marchant Limited 2013 . added 1 march 2013 . image: Free images