Lessons from the Stone Soup -a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others” Brian Tracy

The story of Stone Soup is a popular and yet old European fable that probably has the most versions I have ever come across. Versions of this allegory differ slightly in Scandinavian countries, Portuguese, French, Hungarian, Russian and even in Chinese. It is a folktale told in many cultures with several variations.

Do not feel out of sorts if you truly haven’t heard this fable, it could easily pass for a story from your childhood with the sole intent to teach about the concept of sharing. I will skim through the story and then delve into the learning points afterwards

The story goes something like this;

One day, in a country ravaged by extreme drought and famine (which means there wasn’t enough food to go round). The people in one small village didn’t have enough to eat, and definitely not enough to store away for the winter. People were afraid their families would go hungry, so they hid the small amounts of food they had. They even hid their food from their friends and neighbors.

Two travelers were headed towards the village carrying amongst other things with them an empty cooking pot. The villagers, seeing the travelers coming down the road scampered into their homes and quickly shut their doors. They were unwilling to share any of their food stores with the hungry travelers.

The travelers on their approach had seen the flurry of activities in the village square, but when the dust settled, the village appeared to be completely deserted.

The travelers then starts to knock on doors as they reached the center of the village, but they got no answer. They start to wonder how a village could turn into a ghost villa in a matter of minutes. “What could be amiss?” they asked. It appeared to be totally empty.

One of the travelers began to build a fire and the other pulled the blackened pot out of his pack and placed a large stone in it. “We could make the best soup ever, if only we had a bit of water.” He says loud enough and within earshot to the nearest window.

From one of the nearby windows came a voice, “There’s a well down the road four houses.”

So the traveler took the pot and got water from the well. By the time he returned, the villager who knew about water had opened his door and came to see what the travelers were making.

Putting the pot on the fire, the older traveler said loudly to himself, “This is a good stone soup, but it would be even better if we had a couple potatoes to put in it.” Through another window they heard a quavering voice, “I have a few potatoes.”

Soon the door to a hut opened and a bent and gnarled old women limped over to the pot carrying potatoes in her apron. The potatoes were peeled and placed in the soup.

Again the wise traveler stirred the soup and said in a really loud voice, “Now we have the tastiest stone soup we’ve ever made, but it would taste much richer if we just had an onion or two for a bit of flavor.”

A door creaked open and a little girl came out, “We have three onions but my mommy was afraid to come out. Here they are,” and pulled the onions from her pockets. Into the soup went the onions. The fragrance traveled on the breeze through the windows of the huts and houses in the village.

The wise traveler looked at the growing group of curious villagers around him and said, “What a marvelous stone soup. If we had carrots” and so the story went that the villagers contributed, peas, beans, barley, a chicken, and other vegetables to the cooking soup as the villagers began to open their doors and hearts to share the little they had.
More pots had to be brought, more water carried.

Finally, by the time the soup was ready, the stone (being inedible) was removed from the pot, and a delicious and nourishing pot of soup was enjoyed by travelers and villagers alike. In the end, the entire village ate their fill, laughing and dancing long into the night.

That is it! End of Story!

I imagine that you now recollect this story. In varying versions, the stone has been replaced with other common inedible objects, and therefore the fable is also known as axe soup, button soup, nail soup, and wood soup in other clime.

On the surface, the primary moral of the story focuses on the value of sharing as emphasized by the hungry stranger’s ability to convince the people of a town to each share a small amount of their food in order to make a meal that everyone enjoyed in the end.

Talking about sharing, I have a short personal story to share myself.

Several years ago, I had been trying to perfect my PowerPoint presentation skills as part of my career growth plan. I envisioned that to move up the corporate ladder I needed to have a firm grasp of Powerpoint.

I always had a good eye for presentation and I thought I only needed to brush up my skills to match my yearnings.

The few instances when I had to make a presentation, I came off awfully short especially when I compared hours put into the slides with those presented by some younger colleagues who had earned themselves accolades with their presentation skills.

I dug deep, wondering if there was anything else to learn from the platform. But when I walked past one particular colleague’s computer while he was working on his slides, my presentation slides felt like they were set in monochrome compared to his. I felt so inadequate.

Since he looked busy, I approached him about how he created such amazing slides the next day. I cleared my airs, shelved my ego and had a humble conversation with him about how I would like him to show and even teach me how those slides were created.

And so he started, first by skimming around with the regular tools on the Microsoft Powerpoint toolbar. Tools I already used to no real difference. Then it dawned on me that he probably wanted a non-compete environment and wasn’t really willing to share much insights with me.

When I mentioned to him that those tools couldn’t create such amazing perspective on the slides, he kept saying that was all it took.
I reasoned that if I followed his advice, I would be spending hours or even days preparing just one presentation slide. There was no way I was going to bring my skillset up to scratch with this 10minutes charade.

I left his desk feeling a bit angered and downright pissed- mind my English!
Then I went about trying to find how to make good slides online. There it was that I stumbled on his little secret!

Powerpoint templates!

That was all it took. He had ready-made Powerpoint templates suited to all sorts of presentation styles. All he had to do was work around the templates by selecting appropriate slides that would project the data or information effectively.


To think he wanted me to draw lines and circles in its place was preposterous.
But the Presentation Templates cost some. A 50paged template was going for around $20.

Thinking deeply I reached out to another of my colleague (Credit to our brilliant Nerd- Babata) who got me over 50gigabyte of free templates from the internet(someplace he called the dark web). I would never care to know how he pulled it off.

The compact hard disk where the hundreds of PowerPoint templates were stored became my most prized assets.

I quickly buried myself in learning about the templates and getting a hang of how to select the best slides for my presentation.

Soon, during departmental meetings, the presentation slides coming from the Engineering unit (known for rigid, archaic and cluttered slides) were getting noticed. Colleagues thronged my desk asking “what change?”.
Unlike my dear friend, I asked for their storage devices and shared as many of the slides as their devices could hold. They obviously couldn’t believe their luck. As more colleagues learnt about the stash, more turned up privately for some. And I gave willingly.

Every time I had copied part of my PowerPoint slides to my colleagues, I promptly requested that Babata- the IT nerd get me a fresh stash. For every time I gave out, I got even more by improving my request and getting more collection from him. For free!

In the weeks that followed, I noticed several of the templates I shared doting slides in close-group meetings, boardroom meetings ,town hall meetings and other similar meetings. They could easily have been from another source, yeah, but when the presenter was one of the dudes I shared the slides with, I was always pleased to know that the monopoly enjoyed by a few had been completely severed and broken off.

That alone was a source of genuine satisfaction for me.

I still have tons of these Powerpoint templates- just in case you are wondering.
I enjoy sharing with others- at least from the much I care to share, and not because I want to receive from them in return. It is important to learn to share as it helps cement relationships, it provides help in some ways to the beneficiary and it helps the giver to maintain an improved and healthy self-esteem through the release of Oxytocin, the hormone sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” because it is released when people snuggle up or bond socially.

But have you ever considered the thought if “sharing” is a natural human cooperative behavior?

Take a look at the statement below;

“When you share your lunch with someone less fortunate or give your friend half of your dessert, does that act of generosity flow from the milk of human kindness, or is it a subconscious strategy to assure reciprocity should you one day find yourself on the other side of the empty plate?”

Can you honestly answer this question?

Through natural selection, humans have evolved to form emotional attachments to others and engage in long-term relationships within which reciprocity benefits everyone involved.

Research findings support the idea that actions that benefit another individual tend to, ultimately, also benefit the giver — either because the recipient is genetically related to the giver or will eventually return the favor. Of course, the giver doesn’t have to be consciously aware of the return benefits.

The big question therefore is; do you give simply because you would rather want reciprocity?
In anthropology, Primates tend to share their grub in exchange for services. One reason for this is that human foragers — people who rely on a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle — always run the risk of food shortfalls because hunting and foraging returns are unpredictable.

When a hunt is successful, however, it provides an abundance that can be shared with others. Gathered fruits can be brought back to a central home base for subsequent sharing. Reciprocal sharing creates a buffer against the risk of shortfalls, ensuring that no one goes hungry.

Even other primates (with smaller brains) know to share?

What is your excuse?

Please share you thoughts by posting comments.


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8 thoughts on “Lessons from the Stone Soup”

  1. Thank you for sharing this post Duke. I need to step up my sharing game, even if it’s not reciprocated I will be fine with releasing the “cuddle hormone”..*smiles*

  2. Ibilola Famugbode

    It’s funny how just a few minutes ago as I stood in my kitchen I was wondering If it’s possible for someone to manipulate others by being generous.This thought crossed my mind as I processed an inherent pattern I had missed about someone I once called friend.I was going to ask google about the character traits of such people if it is indeed a thing, when I saw the notification for this. Thanks for Sharing Duke, this taught me a lot and also helped put things in perspective.

  3. Nice post Mr. Akin, Thank you so much for this edifying piece.
    I think unconsciously one can tend to giving with the sense of ‘ one good turn deserves another’- wanting to receive in return. However, I think that this human tendency can be trained, by rectifying ones intention, trying to do the things disinterestedly.
    Reciprocity is the way forward but I think giving disinterestedly is a healthy giving habit. If I don’t expect anything in return, I won’t get hurt or regret that I gave to someone who is not reciprocating.

  4. This is the story of racism. Racism of the black kind. Self-Hating Racism.

    Rather than carry your kind to success, and make greatness common to all, you want to became the only favoured one, you want to oppress.
    Teacher’s pet. Caucasian pet.

    Yet, the Caucasians will go to war with a whole country over minor maltreatment of a supposed irrelevant citizen.

    We say we want to be like them? We want to be civilised? No, we have no idea of what we are doing.

    We are ‘ self-harmingly’ selfish and ignorantly evil.

    In traffic, if you don’t help out the broken down car in a single lane, no one goes anywhere.

    You help yourself by making sure your neighbours are fine.

  5. Awesome work. Please enter the 2021 Commonwealth short story competition.
    Great writing indeed- a thriller. Are Julia and Stepahine one and the same?

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