Timeless Virtues and Ageless Qualities

Several years ago I wrote a column based on Aesop’s fable about the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs. In live presentations and in customer consultations it helps families to explore the lessons from this timeless tale. Aesop, a slave in Ancient Greece during the sixth century B.C., was a masterful story teller. He was famous for literally hundreds of fables and parables. Each story was intended to instruct and reinforce lessons of timeless virtues and ageless qualities. Of them all, “The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,” may be the most pertinent to a family farm owner thinking about the future.

The fable is only four sentences, yet the lessons from it could fill pages and provide answers to many of our most pressing questions.

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, by Aesop
“A man and his wife had the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day. Lucky though they were, they soon began to think they were not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once. But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose. Thus, they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.”

Like an arrow straight to the bullseye, Aesop used simple expressions to create a tale that cuts to the heart of the matter. The first sentence, “…the good fortune to possess a goose which laid a golden egg every day.” may be likened to a family farming operation. How often do we find ourselves taking for granted the blessing of our farming lifestyle? All it takes is a setback in commodity prices, an increase in input costs, or a dismal forecast from an industry expert

But your farm, like the goose, endows your family with many blessings and a quality of life that may be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. The family farming operation is the foundation upon which you’ve built the family, it’s the family’s window to the world, the canvas upon which you paint your memories, the school in which you teach values and the stone from which you carve your virtues.

The immediate reward from our working efforts (the ‘egg’) is most obviously money. But it isn’t only dollars and cents. Returns and rewards can be measured in things that money can’t buy, such as the values we embrace – like an appreciation for family, security, peace-of-mind, independence, career opportunities, pride in our community, the strength of integrity, ambition to grow and traditions.

The second sentence points an accusatory finger at the negative influence of unchecked greed. People often think, if some are good, more must be better, and getting it all at once must be best. Aesop writes, “…not getting rich fast enough, and, imagining the bird must be made of gold inside, they decided to kill it in order to secure the whole store of precious metal at once.”

We’ve all heard the stories and enviously thought how fun it might be to sell out to a wealthy buyer. We might even envy a stroke of luck as one of our peers sells out and moves on. But once the farm is gone, you can’t get it back. Each operation is a combination of talents, resources, markets, commodities, relationships and family.

Each sentence in the fable stands on its own merit, but the whole outweighs the sum of its parts. Focus on the real-life parallels. Imagine the disappointment and delusion when one discovers that not all is as it appears. As “But when they cut it open they found it was just like any other goose.” This sentence helps us to recognize the fallacy of greener pastures.

As a rule, we’re all fascinated by the prospect of a get-rich-quick opportunity and anything that may seem to us as lasting wealth. But, we know all too well the real-life outcome. On closer examination, we may find that the chance we seek is right under our noses and well within our grasp. After all, as they say, “a problem is an opportunity in work clothes.”

And in the climax we learn, “…they neither got rich all at once, as they had hoped nor enjoyed any longer the daily addition to their wealth.” They, on a single roll of the dice – traded what was, for what could have been, and lost it all. So where do we go from here?

Reread the story. Think about the lessons. Learn that you may possess a goose and that it does offer you golden eggs of good fortune, prosperity and abundance. The family may not get super rich in monetary equivalents, but not all of life’s riches can be measured in silver and gold.

Use this parable to:

  1. Quantify the tangible and intangible benefits of farm ownership.
  2. Consider the lasting value and peace-of-mind.
  3. Develop action plans to improve the operation.
  4. Include interested family members and assign responsibilities for improvement.
  5. Commit and then continually review and refine your efforts.

Wealth is fleeting. Your job is to preserve the farm, protect your wealth and promote good family values for the next generation.