4 Short Stories that Will Change the Way You Think

4 Short Stories that Will Change the Way You Think

“There’s always room for a story that can
transport people to another place.”
―J.K. Rowling

Let me distract you for a moment and tell you four short stories.

These are old stories – familiar stories.  The people and the circumstances differ slightly for everyone who tells them, but the core lessons remain the same.

I hope the twist we’ve put on them here inspires you to think differently…

Story #1:  All the Difference in The World

Every Sunday morning I take a light jog around a park near my home.  There’s a lake located in one corner of the park.  Each time I jog by this lake, I see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her.

This past Sunday my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped jogging and walked over to her.  As I got closer, I realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap.  There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap.  She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.

“Hello,” I said.  “I see you here every Sunday morning.  If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”

She smiled.  “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied.  “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim.  It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”

“Wow!  That’s really nice of you!” I exclaimed.

She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out.  It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”

“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.

“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.

I scratched my head.  “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent?  I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are fresh water turtles living in lakes all around the world.  And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells.  So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”

The woman giggled aloud.  She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”

The moral:  You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time.  Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference.  It does.  (Read 29 Gifts.)

Story #2:  The Weight of the Glass

Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students.  As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question.  Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.

She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter.  It all depends on how long I hold it.  If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light.  If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little.  If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor.  In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water.  Think about them for a while and nothing happens.  Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little.  Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”

The moral:  It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries.  No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down.  Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you.  If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.  (Angel and I discuss this process of letting go in the Adversity and Self-Love chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

Story #3:  Shark Bait

During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank.

As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish.

The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.

Again, the shark quickly attacked.  This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off.  Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail.  Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition.  Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up.

This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks.  Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether.

The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack.  The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.

The moral:  Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go.  (Read The Road Less Traveled.)

Story #4:  Being and Breathing

One warm evening many years ago…

After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing.  So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear.  She smiled – the kind of smile that makes me smile back –and she said, “When I’m seventy-five and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”

A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  The room was peaceful – almost silent.  All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing.  I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible.  And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone.  Nor did the future hold any significance.

All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.

Just being with her and breathing with her.

The moral:  We must not allow the clock, the calendar, and external pressures to rule our lives and blind us to the fact that each individual moment of our lives is a beautiful mystery and a miracle – especially those moments we spend in the presence of a loved one.

Your turn…

How do you think differently today than you once did?  What life experience or realization brought on a significant change in your way of thinking?  Please leave a comment below and share your story with us.

Photo by: Hartwig HKD

Comments

  1. TIBAH SOLANGE says

    Wow another great post with 4 great stories. More grease to your elbows Marc and Angel. Stay blessed everyone.

  2. Pretty says

    I enjoy this site so much; I have grown so much that each post has something for me to learn.

    I have been living a life of ‘no hope at all’ rejection left right and center and always feeling sorry and angry at myself for all the failures in my life. I have 2 kids from different men and I have no support from both sides and my relationships always end up disastrous. I have given up on love. I’m going to stick with my kids and give them all the attention.

    Slowly I’m seeing the light. I need to love myself first the to expect someone else to love me…right!!!! Wow.

    Thanks so much for the heads up. Stories #2&3 really made me realize that I have to change my attitude of looking at my situations or else I will die young.

  3. Rhonda says

    Do I worry about missing your wonderful blog? No – its my home page! Did I miss your followers passing the 100K mark? No! Congrats!! You inspire me daily.

  4. says

    These stories made for a great morning read and perspective check. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make me miss a past love a little bit. But I don’t mind occasionally being reminded of those wonderful times either. Today is a good day to have a good day. Happy Thursday.

  5. Carmen says

    These stories reminded me of a moment I experienced with my mother. My dad had passed away a few years before and we had become very close after his death. I was very protective of her and wanted to let her know that I would always be there for her. We had both grown and evolved throughout the years, and while we both experienced the highs and lows of a mother/daughter relationship, we had come to a point of mutual understanding and love. One Sunday, while I was visiting with her, we went for a stroll and then sat down at a bench that was surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. It was one of those serene summer days when the air was sweet and calm and the sun was comfortably warm. I hugged her and felt so grateful that she had made such a difference in my life. I thought then I always want to remember this moment. My mom passed away 11 years ago, and to this day, thinking of that moment brings me so much peace and love.

  6. LB says

    I have always been very hard on myself regarding my abilities and my courage to do things. This in turn has resulted in allowing others to make decisions for me such as the course of study I took in University. Today, I am unemployed because I don’t feel the motivation to work in a field that I am not interested in and passionate about. I decided to carve out a new path, one where the decisions I make are mine and the mistakes I make are my own. It’s been difficult finding out what my passions are and how I can go about pursuing them on my own. It helps to know that there is a whole community out there feeling the way that I do and that there is a place like this that we can all go to be inspired.

  7. jasmine says

    #3 is like the story of elephants – when chained to a post as youngsters, they need no post to hold them down when they mature, because they think it’s still there. Sure we are human and that makes all the difference, because we can read, experiment, challenge old beliefs and take risks on a wide spectrum. But it still takes herculean courage to overcome the past sometimes. And probably some loving support.

  8. says

    @Vincent: I bet your friend would love to hear this story. Send him the article and tell him to read the comments. =)

    @Tristin: Looking at the bright side, a story like yours has lots of hidden hope and happiness. On one level changes need to be made, but on another level there is plenty of room for positive growth. It sounds like your heart is in the right place. I think a lot of the community here is cheering for you. Our heart is with you. Stay strong and take it slow, one step at a time. Remind yourself that you’re not running away, but realizing your worth and slowly moving in a better direction. Hugs to you and your boys.

    @Sandra Lundell: Beautiful, touching words. Thank you!

    @David Rapp: Your own personal school, I love it! Please e-mail Angel the book list, she wants to check it out: angel at marcandangel.com

    @Johnny Waite: What an incredible, heartfelt story. Sometimes we have to remember that the best thing that can possibly happen to us in the long run is not getting exactly what we want right now. You are living proof.

    @Anna: What a great wake-up call and a great exercise many of us could try.

    @JS: Absolutely beautiful!

    @Stacy: Making one person smile CAN change the world… maybe not the whole world, but their world. Thank you for paying it forward and reminding us it’s the small, sincere gestures. =)

    @BW: Using time, pressure and patience, the universe gradually changes caterpillars into butterflies, sand into pearls, and coal into diamonds. You were being worked on too. Just because something didn’t happen , doesn’t mean it will never happen. Congratulations!

    @Wayne: Wow, thank you for sharing!

    @Rhonda: From the bottom of my heart, thank you! We’re smiling from ear to ear. =)

    @LB: You are not alone. Check out The 52 Week Life Passion Project by Barrie Davenport, I thought it was very helpful and inspiring. You’re on the right path.

    @All: Thank you for sharing your stories. You enlightened our evening with beautiful wisdom and insights. Angel and I simply love sitting down and spending an hour reading over your comments. Inspiring!

  9. Issa O. says

    The second story opened my eyes. What a blessing it would be to master such ability. The weight of the glass. I know I have made small situations heavier because I carried it so long.

    Thanks for the insight.

  10. says

    Marc,

    This is an amazing post.

    I learnt valuing others, the hard way. You know how sometimes in life, one doesn’t realize the value of a person until he / she goes away. And it’s a painful process.

    I have changed this thing about me and I ensure that I don’t take things for granted. I make sure that I am able to value people and their time, right away rather than holding on to making them feel special until they get sick of waiting and go away from you forever!

    Thanks again for a good read!
    KAS

  11. Georgee says

    I liked story no. 3 the best. I can totally relate to it because I was once the shark. Thank you for this wonderful article!

  12. Rae says

    Your short story with you and your wife, and her purring of her breathing. Those were the sweetest words I’ve read. You see, my ex-husband (as of June3,2013) was verbally abusive to me. He said “I am sick of hearing your heavy breathing at night”. That was one of the many hurtful words he said to me, that made me strong enough to walk away after 30 years. Now I know what a true relationship should be like. I thank you.

  13. Izzy says

    It was a big shock to me when I discovered my half-sister was not a very nice person. I grew up adoring her, babysitting her, loving her very much. When my parents went back to court to argue alimony years after their divorce, my father told me if I didn’t support his case he’d cut off contact to my half-sister. Of course I couldn’t not support my own mother, so… When I encountered my sister again, she was 18. She was horrible, and I didn’t see it. I still saw her as a sweet, young child and treated her that way. She sent me a series of unprovoked and incredibly cruel emails, finally telling me she never wanted to speak to me again over nothing. Really nothing. (I noticed on facebook that she was always complaining about her life, calling the people around her names like “trolls” and so forth, and she was going to art school in Paris, fully paid without having to work or worry. I gently suggested she try to change her attitude.) I guess she had learned tactics from my father.

    I was beyond devastated for years. Since I’ve had a baby, strangely enough, I’ve been feeling compelled to try to revisit a lot of these painful moments to come to grips with them and let them go. Today I reread her emails to me for the first time since she wrote them 2 years ago. I was struck by their utter uncalled-for nastiness. I wasn’t hurt any longer. I was shocked and a little saddened. What sort of person talks to other people that way? Then I looked at her Facebook page, what was public on it anyway, trying to get a sense of who this person was. (It’s sad in itself that my real connection with her then and now was in varying degrees through Facebook, even though we lived in the same city for years.) She had posted pictures of fat people, mocking them for being fat. She posted pictures of herself with captions from youtube videos with song titles like “Young and Beautiful.” There were a lot of other examples of that kind. Basically, if she wasn’t my own sister, I would have defriended her. (She had already defriended me years prior.)

    I suddenly let go of all hurt and anger, because I realized it was never my fault she was so cruel to me. Unfortunately, my beloved, baby half-sister grew up to be just not a nice person. I tried to influence her when I encountered her again as an adult, but it was too late, and I understand no one appreciates that kind of interference. I only did it, because I still saw her as a child. I wish she could have grown into a woman who could be my friend and love me back, but that isn’t the reality, and it’s not my fault. Seeing people more clearly and not taking their behavior to heart (for the sake of my baby) has been just another blessing of becoming a mother.

  14. Izzy says

    Oh, and P.S. Sorry! It was the second story I was referring to in what I (probably over) shared :).

  15. Monil Shah says

    This was really a good post..
    here’s a similar story to the #3..
    it’s a story about an young elephant which was caught by a circus master and was tied to a hook with a rope. the elephant when young tried all possible ways to get rid of the chained self only to discover that his efforts arent gonna give any fruits and thus give up. when grown up the elephant might have knew that now he’s capable of breaking the chain on let go but it’s the past experiences that were holding him back.
    so I would just like to add up that time is never late to let go. all you need is the courage.. :)
    and thank you for your wonderful posts..
    keep doing what you do..
    you inspire millions of lives..

  16. SW says

    As I read the comments after the wonderful stories, I read Tristan’s. how I wish I had the guts to do the same thing she did.
    My husband is a good provider, we have never lacked anything in our house, but he is not very sensitive and is very demanding of me and the children. I live a stressful life just trying to make sure he does not scream at me or my children.

    I liked how one of the comments said that it is better to be alone then to be lonely and THAT made me realize what my biggest pain is. I AM lonely yet with someone. I d not have the emotional support I am looking for and lacked for all my life. I do not have that laughing relationship where both of the ones involved laugh about something stupid the other said (that other being me most of the time). I am always the stupid one, the one that knows nothing and the one to be put down all the time. I am so tired of it but I cannot leave, I could not support my children by myself with a teacher’s salary, he won’t leave, and so here I am, stuck, now for almost 20 years! I still have two young ones that I hope will grow soon and I can finally leave and be happy ALONE!
    Your posts give me hope, strength and happiness while keeping me company in my desolate world.
    Thank you!

  17. TS says

    @SW
    This is my first time visiting the site and I feel so compelled to comment on your post. There are several concepts from Stephen R. Covey’s ” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that I think could help you ‘see’ your situation differently.

    I empathize with your difficult situation. It must be so tough to deal with day to day. Don’t give up; look deep inside yourself for the path forward, instead of being controlled by your current circumstance, your husband and your current paradigms!

    A very well known psychologist Viktor Frankl experienced horrible torture and the deaths of almost his entire family during the holocaust. He survived it by realizing no matter how bad life was he always had the power to choose his response. The Germans, through all of their torture and all of the unspeakable indignities, could not hurt him because he made the choice not to allow them to. The Germans had more ‘liberty’, but Frankl still had more ‘freedom’.

    You have the freedom, the power to choose. I hope that you choose a better life. I hope you choose to act, rather than be acted upon. I wish for you the courage to attach your future to your limitless potential rather than your limiting past.

    Please don’t give up! My thoughts are with you, so you can find comfort knowing that in the road that lies ahead, you will never be truly, lonely.

  18. Agung Putra says

    I really love your site. it’s giving me a courage and inspiration. Thank you, keep doing your work.

  19. shivani says

    Amazing how such short stories have a huge impact on us which many long essays are unable to have! Great work… kindly keep posting.

  20. OKS says

    Lately everything in my life seems to be falling apart. From the guy I love leaving me with no explanation, to working at a company I detest, things are at an all-time low. Reading your blog has given me the inspiration I have been needing these past few months. I genuinely feel hope and joy and this feeling of everything will be alright. I am forever grateful to you both. Thank you. :)

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