Another Fable: The Old Man and The Children


I read this story first on a friend’s blog (3rd comment from bottom). You can either read the original Chinese version there or read my English translation here:

The Fable of Motivation: Who are you “playing” for?

A group of children were playing, loud and noisy, in front of an old man’s house. The old man after a while couldn’t stand any more.He walked out and handed 25 cents to each child and said, “you guys made my place not so lonely any more. I feel much younger. Take these as my gratitude.”

The children were very happy and came back the next day. Playing loud as usual. The old man came out and handed each of them 15 cents. He explained, “I don’t have much income. 15 cents are not bad at all.” The children were satisfied and left.

The next day, he only gave them 5 cents each.

The children were upset, “Only 5 cents?! Have you no idea how hard we were playing for you!” Then they swore they were never going to play for the old man again.

Analysis (shortened):

There are two types of motivation: internal motivation and external motivation. The old man in the story converted, rather cleverly, the children’s motivation to play from an internal one, “playing for fun”, to an external one, “playing for the money”, while he was the one that controls the external, i.e. the money. As a result, he controlled the children.

Does this sound familiar? To think of it, the old man is like your boss at work, while you are the kids “playing” for him. You get frustrated and miserable when you don’t get enough external rewards. If you let the external motives take control of you, and because you don’t have much control over external factors such as raise and promotion, you are bound to become a slave of those things, instead of master.

This is in fact a deeper answer to the fable of the apple tree, because the apple tree, like the children, did not realize she should in fact be “playing” for herself, not how many apples she got.

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8 responses to “Another Fable: The Old Man and The Children

  1. Pingback: The Fable of an Apple Tree « Between

  2. Wow. Did you translate the story by yourself? //admire //applaud

  3. thank you… it wasn’t as hard as i thought

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  5. That is a good lesson. I recently learned this through a lot of frustration and prayer. Eventually, I learned to manufacture my own internal motivation to gain mastery over the oppressivness I had allowed to eminate from the external motivations.

  6. datatribe, i hope it worked out for you… personally I would say that internal motivation has to come from within and be genuine and truthful to your feelings… if you had to “manufacture” it i would question whether it was truly your motivation or how long that could last…

    best wishes,

  7. Would you be able to tell me the original author of this fable. It’s really meaningful.

    Tks,

  8. hi, I did a quick Baidu to find that out and it seems the original story came from a Chinese book titled “Seven Psychology Fables”, authored by Wu Zhi Hong (武志红). The author, according to this Amazon.cn listing, has a psychology degree and has worked under a famous Chinese psychology professor.

    http://www.amazon.cn/detail/product.asp?prodid=bkbk804965&ref=TS

    The original story was written in Chinese, what you read above is my translation. If you feel it’s really meaningful it means I did my job. :-)

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