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The Chinese farmer who lost his axe

His nephew had stolen it

It’s a pleasure to meet you again. One day, a Chinese farmer lost his axe. He thought in himself a bit, and realized his nephew was the only person who knew where he hid it. Obviously, the nephew has stolen it. What did the uncle do then? He did what every wise uncle would do: he kept his silence, hoping that the nephew would come out and declare his decline of morals or would entrap himself by making unintentional avows. The uncle waited but the nephew tarried. And something surprising happened.

Every time the uncle saw his nephew, the nephew had the head of someone who would steal an axe. His tone of voice perfectly matched the tone of voice of a guilty thief. His clothes, his laughter, even the way the nephew ate resembled the mannerisms of an axe thief. Now remember that the uncle did not catch him in the act. He only had “solid” assumptions. Legally or morally, he could not accuse him. Another day though, the uncle accidently stumbled upon the axe. The position of the tool was fitting to the last place he had used it. “Wow,” he thought; “maybe this guy didn’t steal the axe!” To him it was surprising anyway because the guy fitted the description of an axe thief.

Even more surprisingly, the next time the uncle saw his nephew, the guy had no resemblance whatsoever with a thief, let alone an axe thief. So, where were all these illusions coming from all along? You guessed it: imagination.

Be careful where you let your imagination to wander. It might the harvest fruits that will produce a damnable stupidity in you. Ouch, that was rude of me. I apologize. But seriously, conflicts flourish when we let our imagination go places it shouldn’t go. We all make the same mistake over and over again. In our relationships, we are quick to jump to the conclusion and the solution. No, the other person is the problem. Yes, we need to part ways. No, they are rude, judgmental, too controlling and yada yada yada. Maybe! But sometimes the problem is elsewhere. To find it, we need to invest time, willingness, and energy. It takes time to find the real root of a problem. Let’s see the highways we may travel to pinpoint the root of any problem we encounter.

First, problems come in all sizes and shapes, but there are similarities in how to recognize them.

Do you know how our Chinese uncle could’ve solved this problem differently? I presume you do. Now let me give you the first strategy you should use to begin to look for the root cause of a problem.

– Strategy #1: see the problem as a thing

In social science, a researcher must see the topic of her study as a thing, separate from her. Let’s picture this: when a geologist studies a rock, he or she does not suddenly see his picture in the rock. Rather, he studies the rock as a thing separate from himself. He cannot show emotions in the rock or bias, or racial discrimination, or even a control-freak father. A rock is a rock, which is why the geologist can give us the characteristics of it more elegantly and adequately. But if he saw emotions in the rock, the results would be different. So, first strategy: see each problem as a thing. That means the other person is not the problem. The problem is the thing that is spoiling your relationship. You might wonder though, “What does this have to do with self-confidence?” Problems drain our self-confidence sometime faster than anything else. We will receive the second strategy next time, God willing.

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Peace!

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