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The Power Of One







I recall a fable told us by my father from his recollection of a Grade 3 Persian Reader.

A pious old man was riding through a forest when he heard cries of help from deep within the woods.

He followed the groans until he came upon a young man lying on the ground, apparently injured and in dire pain.

“I’ve been robbed and beaten,“ he pleaded. “Help me … please don’t leave me here to die!“
The rider was moved by the appeals and descended from his horse, leaving his satchels on it. He then helped the man in distress to his feet and assisted him in mounting the horse. He comforted and reassured him:

“I’ll take you to the next village where you’ll get balm for your wounds. You ride the horse since you’re unable to walk, and I will walk beside you till we get there.”

But the moment the young man was secure in the saddle, he snatched the reins  and burst into laughter.

“Fooled you, didn’t I? Have a pleasant walk home,” he taunted the baffled old man and prepared to gallop away.

“Stop! Wait!”  yelled the old man, realizing he had been tricked. “I must tell you something before you go ... It’s important!”

The thief reined in the horse, turned it around and waited at a safe distance.

“Say what you have to say quickly, because I’m in a hurry.”

“Well,” said the old man. “You’re clever and you’ve cheated me. You have taken advantage of my compassion and kindness. But I can live with the loss of the horse and my property; I’ll even promise never to report you or pursue you to recover any of the things. You can keep them. They’re yours now.

“But on one condition, though: you must promise that you will never tell anyone how you tricked me, how you took the horse from me.”

“Why, fool? How does that help you?” queried the thief.

“Simple. If people ever find out how you took my things … of how I responded to your pleas for help with compassion and, as a result, lost all my worldly belongings, they will stop helping strangers.

“The wise and the wary will then counsel everybody never to be kind to strangers. I’d rather willingly give you my horse and everything I own, than have you kill kindness and compassion for all time to come.”

The thief, the story goes, was moved to tears by this. He returned the horse and belongings to the pious man, begged his forgiveness and promised to turn his life around.

This story, unfortunately, has been replayed amidst us, in real life.

In fact, we were told this fable in the early 1970s, when my father was distressed by the fact that an increasing number of incidents of abuse of/ by hitch-hikers was generating a new wisdom: that one should never stop for hitch-hikers.

My father caused us untold distress when he resisted our entreaties to stop giving rides to strangers - he was in the habit of stopping for hitch-hikers, or for those waiting at bus-stops on very cold, Canadian wintery days or hot and humid summer afternoons, offering free rides.

They saw his Santa Claus beard and welcomed the succour.

“You can’t let a few criminals change our quality of life,” he would argue.


First published on June 5, 2012. Republished on April 12, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 05, 2012, 7:56 AM.

Very moving indeed!

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 05, 2012, 10:43 AM.

Bhai Vir Singh ji has also used this example in one of his books that such a deceit would prevent the genuine cases from getting help. This is big business in India where feigned sickness or injury is used to con people.

3: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), April 14, 2017, 4:44 PM.

Sher ji, when I saw this beautiful heart warming post, a similar story came to mind that had appeared in Bhai Vir Singh ji’s ‘Gurmukh Sikhya’. But, as I scrolled down I saw my own earlier comment from this old post. No matter, I can embellish with another post, a story of Victor Hugo who was considered one of the finest writers of his time. Let me share a few words about his masterpiece, ‘Les Miserables’ that you all are familiar with. Jean Valjean who, for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, was caught by a so-called righteous jury and given 14 years of imprisonment. When he tried to escape from this cruel punishment, he was caught again and had another 14 years added to his prison term. When at long last he was paroled his misery didn’t end. No one would employ him as his papers pronounced him a convict. As he sat down, a broken and hungry destitute, at a Church doorway, a kindly priest invited him in for a brief shelter and a hot meal. This was the first glimpse of heaven’s grace in the face of sickening sin. Born out of desperation he stole the priest’s silver-ware. He was again caught and hauled into the church in front of the kindly priest who said that he had himself had given those silver bits to him. In fact he had forgotten the most valuable pieces -- two silver candlesticks -- and whispered that he must use those silver pieces to become an honest man. He does exactly that and rips his parole papers and uses his silver to build a business that employed the poor and the destitute.

4: Ram Kaur (Malaysia), April 16, 2017, 12:52 AM.

The message in the article is truly amazing in re-educating the mind. The stereotype personality would fall for the common reactive method which is never to trust a stranger. However the kind words that follow are a simple message of Love which gurbani emphasises: for the betterment of mankind.

5: Birenrdra Singh Huja (Honolulu, Hawaii, USA), April 17, 2017, 12:06 AM.

Story telling is part of every culture. Present day stories appear on the computers and the modern media but telling a story while you are snuggling with your children and grandchildren has no parallel. It is a pleasure that can be only felt where there is warmth of love touching and caressing you and there is one story that we all share. The reader and the listener are making their own story in their minds as we share the same tale. One story, many different visions. As children we were told stories almost every night and we were transported to a land of our own imaginary world before we gently slipped into a beautiful dream world of our own. Those were the days, my friend. Read, share and transport yourself ...

6: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), April 19, 2017, 11:13 AM.

The late father of one of my closest Sikh friends always helped every needy person he met. A true gurmukh, he was so loving that I am sure no one, even one with the worst of intentions, would have harmed him.

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