Among the lessons emerging from the Certificate Program in early September, we heard wisdom in many different forms. The Certificate Program, by design, has a very holistic feel about it, a compendium of thinking on topics as diverse as growing and commercializing crops, understanding gender issues more deeply, seeing the environment as a fragile home, leadership, followership, organizational and personal health, and spirituality in work. The September edition narrowed a bit, though still rich in wide-ranging matters. One topic struck me as particularly interesting, given our Nicaragua location and the peasant participants at hand.
In the course of our time together, we were introduced to an allegorical tale of sorts, one that was intended to stir our thinking about what matters to us, what holds value and is therefore worthy of our time and energy. The tale is presented here:
A couple was walking down the street, when they noticed a man under a street lamp, looking for something on the ground. As they approached him in order to help, they quickly determined that he was drunk. But they asked him, “Sir, have you lost something?”
“I lost my gold ring,” was his reply.
The couple helped him look for a long while, until they grew tired and frustrated with the fruitless search. The couple asked him, “Are you certain that you lost it here?”
“I am sure that I did NOT lose it here, but over there,” he said, pointing to a darker area nearby.
“Then why are you looking here?” they asked him, wondering if they had not heard him correctly.
“Because the light from the street lamp doesn’t reach over there, but only here! Can’t you see that?” he responded in a surprised and challenging tone of voice.
The story elicited a wide range of perspectives and interpretations, all of which added insight to the tale; the attendees gave the story some serious consideration as they tried to discern its lessons. But for me, one conclusion stood out above the others. In short, it was the question of “where do you seek your treasure?”
It’s not a new question. But in the rural mountains of Nicaragua, where the basic economics for living have been hard to sustain, where availability of food depends far too heavily upon the vagaries of weather and blight, and where populations might well be excused for seeking gold under seductive bright lights, I did not anticipate the consensus answer to the treasure-question that emerged.
Their first, tentative answers tended to be the seemingly obvious: the man was wasting his time- and that of others- by virtue of his irresponsible drunken condition; he needed to understand the importance of a clear mind; treasures lost might never be found again. Then the responses became more reflective: the man was searching in a place that would never reward him; the easy way is not always the best way; sometimes you must discover your own treasure, your own truth, by yourself. And finally, the lessons became personal, philosophical: we too often seek that which is of greatest value in the wrong places; burdens are made easier when encountered in the light; in searching for that which we think will bring us wealth, we just may discover something else of even greater intrinsic value.
For rural Nicaraguan producers, who face some of life’s most difficult challenges, the story had become all about understanding values, where to look, how to look, how to reconcile what we might wish to be true with our actual truths. I find myself still marveling at the honesty of their thinking and analysis of their truths. For, it’s an easier exercise to tackle when one’s basic needs have been met and one has the luxury of contemplating things like self-actualization. It’s a more profound conclusion to reach when it’s not just an exercise….