This week I attended a Lunch Hour with Jess Keating on Instagram. She is an author, artist, and creative coach. I think her most recent book to date is the second book in a series of graphic novels called BunBun and BonBon.
Jess is very talented and makes “inspiring” look easy. During her Lunch Hour, she said that many things can be either bad or good, you just don’t know how things will end up. “Shift your attitude” toward something positive, and that little change in thought could lead to a bigger change in action.
When Jess spoke, I recalled a Chinese folktale that I heard first from, I think it was, Sid Lieberman. As it happens, Jess was going there all along. I couldn’t repeat the story the way she told it, but as I remember, it goes something like this:
A farmer in a Chinese province had a single horse to help with his work. When the horse ran away, the neighbors gathered and said, “What misfortune! Now you will have to plow your fields by hand.” But the farmer’s wise father remarked, “How do youknow it is not fortune?” The following day the farmer found the horse in the company of 7 wild horses, and a stallion among them. The neighbors gathered to marvel, “What fortune! Now you can sell them as workhorses and you’ll be rich.” But the father only replied, “How do you know it is not misfortune?” The farmer proceeded to break in his horses, but when he mounted the stallion it threw him. The farmer’s leg shattered. The neighbors gathered to express their grief, “What misfortune! Now you have no way to work at all.” The father only said, “How do you know it is not fortune?” When soldiers arrived at the province they gathered all the young men who could fight but left the man whose leg was shattered. The neighbors gathered to tell him how fortunate he was to stay home from war. Again the father shook his head and said, “How do you know?”
When you demand that an opponent “Say ‘Uncle’!”, the response is “Uncle!” meaning “I submit!”. They say that the expression has anecdotal origins. What happens when you ask a parrot to say “Uncle”? Will the bird submit or will he repeat the behavior you have shown him? And why the parrot may be the bravest bird of all in the story below.
There was a man who purchased a prattling parrot that was said to speak very well. When he said “Brother” the parrot would reply, “Brother”. When he said “Mother” the parrot would reply, “Mother”.
Happy with himself, the man bragged to his friends that the parrot would repeat anything he said. The man command the parrot “Say ‘Uncle’!” several times in front of his friends, but the parrot did not answer. “Say ‘Uncle’!” The man repeated sternly. No reply. Then the man became irate with the bird, pinned him to the floor and shouted, “Say ‘Uncle’! Say ‘Uncle’, you bugger!” No reply. When the man had enough he shut the parrot up in a coop with his fearsome, fighting fowls. He thought he would teach the parrot a lesson.
The next day the man opened the coop to find the fowls backed against the wall, wide-eyed. In the center of the coop the parrot pinned a fighting fowl to floor and shouted, “Say ‘Uncle’! Say ‘Uncle’, you bugger!”
London Origin as told by me