The Price of Rice – A fable about leadership

US_long_grain_rice

I heard this story when I was a little kid. Now that I am older, I am not able to trace its source. I think it may have been a Zen story. Anyways, the way I remember it is as follows:

There was a famous teacher in a village. Two brothers came to be trained under him. Years went by, and the older brother was getting restless. In his mind, the teacher was partial to his younger brother, and he could not understand why. He is older and felt wiser than the younger brother. But the teacher never gave him any responsibilities.

One day, the older brother went to his teacher and asked him,

“Teacher, why is it that you do not give me any responsibilities? You always seem to be biased towards my younger brother. We came here at the same time, and learned everything together. Yet, you treat him better than you treat me. Why?”

The teacher smiled. He sipped his tea, and then said,

“Let’s do this; why don’t you run to the village center and go to the rice store. Ask the vendor, what is the price of rice? Come back when you are ready.”

The older brother thought this was an easy job. He ran to the village center and asked the vendor the price for rice, and ran back to his teacher.

“It is 10 rupees per kilo.” He said trying to catch his breath.

The teacher asked him. “Is this the price for brown rice?”

“Yes”. The older brother replied.

“What about the white rice?” The teacher asked.

“I do not know.” The older brother replied.

So he ran back again, and asked the vendor for the price of white rice, and ran back to his teacher.

“It is 12 rupees per kilo.” He replied again trying to catch his breath.

“Is there a price discount, if I buy 10 kilos?” The teacher asked.

“I do not know” was the answer again.

The student ran to the village center yet again to gather more information.

“The price is 8 rupees if we buy 10 kilos.” The student responded.

“What about the white rice?” was the next question from his teacher.

Now the student was too tired to run back again, so he sat down ashamed.

The teacher asked for the younger brother to come. He was unaware of any of the happenings.

“Why don’t you run to the village center and go to the rice store. Ask the vendor, what is the price of rice? Come back when you are ready.” The teacher asked the same thing to the younger brother.

“Sure thing, Teacher”, the younger brother replied.

He ran off and came back after a short while.

“The price of rice is 10 rupees per kilo for brown, and 12 rupees per kilo for white. If you buy 10 kilos, you will get a discount of 2 rupees for both brown and white. The new stock is coming in two days, so we might want to wait to get the fresh supply. The vendor also gave his regards to you.” The younger brother replied.

“Thank you, my son. You may go now”, the teacher said.

The teacher took another sip of his tea, and looked at the older brother, and said.

“When you are given a task, always try to see what the big picture is. Try to understand how your seemingly little task aligns with the big task at hand.”

“Do not be a small person caring about only small things and your own small world. Be a big person caring about both small and big things.” The teacher continued finishing his tea.

THE END.

Soon after joining the work force, I came to the realization that I have to move in and out of the big and small picture perspectives. A task or a project sometimes seems to live on even after you are done with it, and it is generally intertwined with multiple other projects. Thus I learned to keep my mind at the task at hand, while keeping my eyes on the big picture.

To me, the younger brother also ensured to maintain a personal interaction with the rice vendor. This is also an important thing to keep in mind.

Always keep on learning, and be ready when you are next asked what the price of rice is.

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