Friday, February 13, 2009


The first step in the self development process is to inculcate a positive outlook towards life. The success one yearns to achieve in life varies from individual to individual.

As the poet said:

Some for the glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;

And the poet mused that there was no point in sighing for a ‘prophet’s paradise’. Therefore he advised, “Whatever you wish to do, do it now!” (Of course the noble poet meant doing some useful work!)

Ah, take the cash and let the promise go,
Nor heed the music of a distant Drum!

In order to illustrate the concept of outlook to life, a small parable is often quoted:

The three stone cutters

In the parable, a philosopher - a practical philosopher, who travelled, observed, and analyzed events, not an armchair philosopher - was wandering in his quest to understand the meaning and purpose of life.

He came across three stone cutters working at a stone quarry. The work of the stone cutters was to break large boulders using heavy sledge hammers into smaller and smaller pieces till they could be manipulated into masonry. This, they did, in an unvarying routine throughout their working day and day after day throughout their working life. The philosopher asked all three of them the same question: “What are you doing?”

The first stone cutter answered the question with some asperity: “Can’t you see; I am breaking stones.”

The second answered with humility: “Sir, I make a living by cutting these stones.”

The third answered with obvious relish: “I make stones that may someday be used in the construction of a beautiful monument!”

The three stone cutters were doing the same work, for the same number of hours everyday and paid the same amount of money. But each looked at his work differently:

The first one cursed his work, his life, his existence and may be even the world around him.

The second one was neutral; he was neither jubilant nor unhappy about his work and life - in his view he merely existed.

For the third no work was menial; he was able to see nobility in the work he did.

The parable has a number of lessons. But firstly it should not be misunderstood. It was not to lull human beings into accepting whatever life offered and be happy with it. If it was, the world would have been full of happy stone cutters. There would have been no quest for knowledge and no progress. The ancient Rishis would not have gazed into Sunya (nothingness) to come up with the mathematical symbol ‘0’; there would have been no advancement in the science of mathematics; there would have been no chakra (wheel) by extension. Newton would have eaten his apple; and the world would have remained flat in human perception.

The first lesson may be drawn from the first stone cutter. If he cursed his work, who or what forced him to continue doing it? He could have or should have sought to do something that he liked. Then he would have liked his work, his life, his existence and the world around him. The lesson may be summed up as: ‘learn to love your work or seek to do the work you love!’

The second lesson is for the majority; the mediocre that makes up the majority for whom life is mere existing not living. A little harsh perhaps but true - because the majority of people are stoic; they are neither happy nor unhappy; they just accept whatever comes their way instead of striving to improve their lot and the lot of people around them.

The third lesson is, not to be unhappy with what one does not have; nor to wallow in self pity or seethe with fury against the ‘cruel world’ but to seek whatever glory one can in the work one does. There would be no point in a stone worker cursing himself - or the world - for not being a scientist and win a Nobel Prize. But could he not work to produce a beautiful sculpture or a grand edifice? The moral is a slight inversion of the first: learn to love your work or strive to elevate it to a higher plane!

A changed attitude to life works wonders.

We have agreed at the outset, that we do not pack these pages with text book wisdom! Therefore, it is necessary to narrate a real life experience: This is the story that a sales manager experienced in the early days of his career. He was posted to a new a area and asked to lead a team that was performing below par. It was a young team but beset with a lot of problems. One specific brief that was given to him was to get rid of a probationer who was no good. The view was that the probationer was argumentative and negative minded. The sales manager however felt that he should not do any axing without thoroughly analysing the issue. He found that the probationer had strengths and weaknesses.

On the positive side he was aggressive and bold, strengths highly desirable in sales professionals. On the negative side he was indeed argumentative and negative minded which was probably attributable to his family background. His father was a trade union leader and subscribed to a particular political philosophy, a trait which the boy subconsciously imbibed. Secondly in his work habits he was not ‘up with the lark’ as against the sales profession’s maxim expressed in the saying: 'an early bird catches the prey'. This was found to be because of a constitutional problem which could be easily corrected. There were some problems in the territory too. In the past, there were frequent changes of sales personnel in the territory; demand for the company’s products was dropping; there was attrition of distributors and no one was coming forward to take the line. All these factors added to the probationer’s negative attitude.

The sales manager patiently counselled the probationer listing first his strengths and what he could achieve in life - not just in his job or career - if only he had confidence in himself and corrected a few habits which he explained was not difficult at all. The professional help the sales manager rendered to the probationer is immaterial to this story but because he did not give up and constantly worked to change his protégé’s attitude he was able to bring about a remarkable transformation. In about a year the probationer was not only confirmed in service but was topping performance charts in the entire division. More importantly he shed his trade union proclivity and was beseeching his mentor to help him move up the career ladder!


  1. Good parable. I have heard it slightly differently. A story of three bricklayers in which the last one grows eventually into the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren

  2. Thank you ,'Qurioux'. If it is true it corroborates the third lesson from the parable we mentioned: "learn to love your work or strive to elevate it to a higher plane!"