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A Little Happier: What’s the Best Way to Persuade? The Sun and the North Wind Disagree.


As I’ve mentioned many times, I love Secrets of Adulthood, aphorisms, epigrams, paradoxes, koans, allegories, fables, and teaching stories of all kinds.

Perhaps because I love them so much myself, and go out of my way to read them, I’m often surprised to learn that a story or aphorism that I assume is very well-known—or even a cliché—is actually not very well known.

For instance, I love Aesop’s Fables. Aesop  was a storyteller in ancient Greece credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop's Fables. Although his existence remains unclear and no actual writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him have been gathered over the centuries.

One of my favorite stories is “The North Wind and the Sun.” Many versions exist; here’s the basic version.

The Sun and the North Wind begin to argue about who was the stronger.

As they quarreled, they noticed a traveler walking down a road.

“Look,” suggested the Sun, “there’s a traveler wrapped in a cloak. Let’s decide who of us is stronger by seeing who can strip him of his cloak.”

The North Wind agreed to the test and immediately sent an icy blast against the traveler, to try to whip the cloak from his body.

The traveler clutched his cloak, and the harder the North Wind blew, the more he tightly he hung on. Finally, the North Wind gave up.

Then the Sun began to shine—first gently, so that the traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loose. Then the Sun started to shine more warmly, until the traveler pulled off his cloak to rest under a shady tree.

Aesop helpfully points out the lesson, which is a timeless one: Gentleness and kind persuasion often win where force and bluster fail.

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