This is a story from my mediation training – more years ago than I care to remember! It is retold here for children …or perhaps for grown ups who have retained a sense of kindness and surprise…
There once was a wealthy camel herder, who had three children. He wanted to give them a gift that would make them wealthy too. So, he went to a lawyer and had all the papers drawn up to give the children a herd of camels.
To the first child, he gave one half of the herd of camels;
To the second – one quarter of the herd; and
To the third child – one eighth of the herd.
The children were very excited and immediately went and rounded up the herd. They were thrilled, when they found that there were 15 fine camels.
The children looked at the piece of paper on which their father had set out his instructions for dividing the herd.
“I have one half”, said the first child. Doing the arithmetic, the first child announced confidently, “That’s seven and a half camels!”
“I have one quarter”, said the second child. Doing the arithmetic, the second child announced, less confidently, “That’s three and … three quarter camels!”
“I have one eighth”, said the third child. The third child struggled with the arithmetic and began to cry. “Don’t worry”, said the first child. “I can do it. It’s one and seven eighths of a camel!”
The third child did begin to worry! He loved the camels and it looked like there were going to be a lot of camels chopped into bits.
Nobody wanted less than their fair share of the camels. But no matter how hard they tried, they could not divide the herd as their father had instructed.
The first two children began to squabble and fight. The youngest child began to cry again.
Just then, an old lady came by. She saw the children squabbling and crying. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
Between sobs (and over the noise of the squabbling children) the youngest child told the old lady what had happened. No matter how they tried, the children could not divide the herd as their father had wanted.
The old lady thought for a while. “Hmm! Well, I have a camel”, she said. “Why don’t you borrow it and see what happens?”
The children were ready to give anything a go. So, they borrowed the old lady’s camel.
Now there were 16 camels. The children looked again at the piece of paper on which their father had set out his instructions for dividing up the herd.
“I have one half”, said the first child. Doing the arithmetic, the first child announced confidently, “That’s eight camels!”
“I have one quarter”, said the second child. Doing the arithmetic, the second child announced, confidently, “That’s four camels!”
“I have one eighth”, said the third child; and, “Oh! Oh! Oh! I can do this. That’s two whole camels!”
The children were very pleased, because they each had more than they thought they would get and none of the camels was going to be chopped to bits. (The camels were very pleased too!)
Now, when the children added up their shares: 8 camels + 4 camels + 2 camels, what do you think happened? The total came to 14 camels. There were two camels left over – the old lady’s camel and one other. The children quickly agreed, “Let’s give it to the old lady”, they said. And so they did that.
The old lady smiled. “You have a wise father”, she said. “This has been a gift that has made you wealthy, indeed!”
I wonder what she meant?
Andrew C. Wood