Early in my career as an educator, I had the opportunity to provide a series of workshops for some school administrators. I was fresh out of college back then and, of course, with my new degree in hand I supposed I knew all there was to know about teaching. My motivation was to make a little extra money to help my young family with expenses.
The workshops went well and I think my clients were pleased—until I attempted to extract the last farthing. I had put together some pretty elaborate workshop materials with lots of color graphics, charts and case studies. I had a few packets left over at the end of the training and I debated with myself whether to give the materials to my clients or to offer them for sale. Unfortunately, in my quest to make an extra buck, I offered them for sale. My offer was refused. By making that choice, I believe I lost the good will and the credibility I had gained with those particular clients—and probably lost some future clients as well. Generosity would have been the better policy.
I’m reminded of a story I heard as a child about the son of the famous old pioneer and missionary to the Indians, Jacob Hamblin (1819-1886). “When I was about twelve years old,” he said, “our family lived in Kanab, Utah. A band of Piute Indians were camped a few miles away, across the wash. My father, Jacob Hamblin, said to me, ‘Son, I want you to go to the Indian camp this afternoon and trade that little bay pony for some blankets, which we will need this winter.’
“When the midday meal was over I climbed astride old ‘Billy,’ led the little bay pony, and rode bareback across the flat toward the Indian camp. When I rode in, the chief helped me off the horse and asked, ‘You Jacob’s boy. What you want?’
“When I told him my errand, he looked at the trade pony and grunted his assent. He led me to his wigwam where there was a pile of hand-woven Indian blankets. He piled out a number of them. Determined to show my father that I was a good trader, I asked for another blanket. The chief looked at me out of the corner of his eye and added another blanket to my pile. Then I asked for another and another and still another. By now the chief was grinning broadly but added as many blankets as I demanded.
“Satisfied that I had really made a good trade, I closed the deal. The chief piled the blankets on the back of old ‘Billy’ and lifted me up.
“Father met me in the yard and looked at the blankets. Then he made two piles of about equal size. One pile he placed on the horse and put me back on, saying, ‘Go back and give these to the chief. You got enough blankets for two horses.’
“As I approached the camp, I could see the old chief. When I rode up, he laughed out loud and said, ‘I know Jacob send you back. He honest man. He my father as well as your father.’
“Several years later when Jacob was alone with a band of angry hostile Indians, the fact that he had always been honest with them saved his life.” (Told by Louise Lee Udall, “A Story to Tell,” 1945)
If I had been captured by that band of hostile school administrators, I would have lost my scalp for sure. Whether trading professional services in the business world or ponies for blankets, I have learned that honesty and generosity will always save the day.