Earlier this week, I was thinking about the lessons I learned from my parents, and how they have influenced who I am today. When my brother and I were kids, my parents would take turns telling us bedtime stories.  My mom spun tales of Egbert, a young boy who was frequently presented with decisions that challenged his ethics, always neatly summed up with a moral lesson that urged us to do the right thing.

One of our favorites was a story about Egbert and his mom.  The mom asked him to run to the grocery store to buy several items for her. She gave him some money and said, “Now Egbert, be sure to bring me the change.” He nodded solemnly and ran off to the neighborhood corner store. He quickly found the items she needed and went to the cash register, where he was confronted with a tantalizing display of candy.  Quickly adding up how much money he needed, he saw he had just enough for his favorite candy bar.

“What kind of candy, mom?” my brother would interrupt. Our mom would answer by describing the delicious chocolate and caramel confection that was Egbert’s favorite.

My brother and I would exchange glances and nod sagely at each other. This would be a very difficult choice for the young Egbert.  He could probably get away with it. His mom would never, ever know. Yes, this was quite tempting. And from other stories told about the mischievous and inquisitive kid, we knew he sometimes made very poor errors in judgment. What would he do?

My mom would draw out the story, describing how Egbert could just imagine the luscious taste of that candy, and how much he wanted it. She would elucidate his thoughts about how he could hide the evidence of his indiscretion, how he could lie to his mother about how much the items cost, how easy it would be to cover up the whole event. And then – then she would talk about the guilt he would feel, share the words of his conscience, and how he knew it was wrong to steal and wrong to lie.

Finally, my mom would ask what we thought Egbert should do.

Oh boy.

My brother would add in a few questions to figure out whether Egbert could really get away with it. He spent more time calculating the pros and cons of the actions.

For me, the elder sister, I already knew the answer my mom wanted to hear.  She had made the situation black and white.

Egbert, of course, would make the decision to skip the candy bar, no matter how much he wanted it. He bought only the items his mom asked him to buy, and walked home, albeit a bit slowly, with a touch of despondence in his step that can only come from thwarted desires. His conscience felt good, but his stomach and taste buds longed to indulge in the velvety sweetness that only chocolate and caramel can provide.

When he got home, he summoned a smile for his mother, and obediently handed her the bag and the change. She took out the items and the receipt. She counted out the change.

My goodness! My brother and I suddenly realized the mom could CHECK. We had both overlooked this in our estimation of the risk to Egbert.  Wide-eyed with shock, we realized Egbert had been very close to making a horrible mistake.

His mom gave Egbert a hug and said, “Thank you for being such a good boy and getting those items for me! And as a reward, I want to give you the change.”

Egbert couldn’t believe his ears! He grabbed the change and raced off to the store to buy the candy bar.

My brother and I would smile, and my mom, just in case we didn’t ‘get’ the moral of the story, would clearly spell it out for us.  We would go to bed knowing that we would face temptation in life, and that good actions could sometimes be unexpectedly rewarded.

These lessons, illustrated through the trials and tribulations of our dear beloved Egbert, became guiding principles for life.  And these lessons can help us in business, as well:

  • Follow your conscience even when it doesn’t feel good.
  • And savor the unexpected pleasures of life.

What lessons did you learn early in life that help you with your business today?

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