An Ass is an Asset: Old Man from the Past Running Asses Teaches Us How Our Perceptions Can Be a Trap

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The Great Sufi Saint Mullah Nasruddin was a practical joker who taught us many a lesson through his funny stories. Below is one such humorous story full of wisdom:

Nasruddin was a trader who carried stuff from Persia to Greece. He was becoming richer by the day but the tax officials couldn’t figure out how. Each week, Nasruddin would cross the border from Persia into Greece with two donkeys fully loaded with straw and some other junk. The Persian customs officer at the border post would search his stuff thoroughly but he never found anything of substantial value that he could tax. Several years passed. The Mullah was now among the richest men in his region. The customs official had retired and was replaced by a younger officer. One morning, as Mullah was having his breakfast, the retired customs official came to visit. As soon as he sat down, he said: ‘Now that I have retired, I want to know the secret of your success. I promise not to tell anyone. Were you smuggling something from Persia into Greece?’

‘Yes, I was’, Nasruddin said with a smile. ‘I was smuggling donkeys.’


Paradigm shift: Everyone is valuable, do not treat anyone as an ass

This joke has several learning points but the most important message is to give up the one-sided or uni-dimensional categorization of employees as things. Expressions like human resource or human capital betray the underlying assumption that we see our employees as less than human or resources at best. There are many who don’t even do that and count their employees as expense. But both of these positions treat individuals as replaceable objects.

Each individual is unique, born with unique talents and abilities. Instead of discovering their true abilities, we try and motivate them through carrot and stick towards meeting our targets. But carrot and stick can only motivate jackasses. Human beings need much more: they need respect, they need understanding and much more than anything else, they need opportunities to unleash their natural talent. This can be achieved through training and capacity building. If this talent will remain dormant and undiscovered, they will be worth nothing, like the donkeys which were worthless in the eyes of the customs official. But they will add value beyond one’s wildest imagination if they are treated with trust, respect and openness.


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