Robert Kegan closed out his Learning & the Brain session with this Russian tale, told to him by his grandfather, and included in his book How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work. Kegan facilitated his interactive, collaborative workshop by taking us through the major exercise described in his book. The exercise might best be described as understanding our languages of commitment. More on that in weeks to come. For now, here is the tale.
It was winter and a woodcutter was walking through the woods, with plans to chop some wood to bring back home. Along the way he found a bird in the snow. The bird was cold and weak, and the woodcutter took heart, picked up the bird, placed it in his jacket, and continued into the woods.
Upon arriving at just the right spot for chopping some wood, the woodcutter realized he would have to put the bird down in order to do the chopping and carrying home of the wood. Wanting to keep the bird safe and warm, the woodcutter looked around for a place to put the bird. In the distance he spied some cow pies recently dropped by a passing herd. The woodcutter walked over to the warmest pile, dug out a nesting spot, and placed the bird within the surrounding warmth. The woodcutter returned to his cutting area, cut down the wood he needed, then picked up the wood and carried it home.
Meanwhile, the warmth of the cow pile was nourishing the bird, so much so that the bird regained its strength and started to sing a lovely song. Off in the distance a hungry wolf’s ears perked up upon hearing the bird’s song. The wolf set off in search of the source of the sound, and soon came upon the bird nesting in the cow pile. With one big gulp, the wolf had his meal and the bird’s song had stopped.
This Russian tale has three morals which, according to Kegan, is the standard for Russian tales.
The one who gets you into a pile of s**t is not necessarily your enemy.
The one who gets you out of a pile of s**t is not necessarily your friend.
If you wind up in a pile of s**t, don’t sing about it!