Character Development

The Way to Perfection

Things don't always go as we would want

A prisoner who was sentenced to life imprisonment sat in an American jail and made a sort of self-reflection.

He debated whether it would be worth taking a risk and trying to escape jail or maybe it was better just to do nothing? On the one hand every escape attempt has its risks. He might get caught and his conditions in jail might be worsened.

On the other hand he was sentenced to life imprisonment and if he didn't help himself to escape he would rot in jail for the rest of his life. There wasn't therefore much to lose. On the other hand if he would succeed in escaping he had a lot to gain.

A retired jailor volunteered to remove dead prisoners from the jail where this prisoner resided. When a prisoner died behind bars, his cellmates would ring a bell and then the retired jailor would come and take the body to a special room. He would identify the corpse and put it in the morgue, knocking nails into the coffin to close it hermetically. Then the jailor would stick a note on the coffin with the prisoner's personal details and take the coffin in his car for burial.

One morning, our prisoner turned to the pensioner jailor and started talking to him. “Listen” said the prisoner to the former jailor, “I've got a lot of connections outside the jail, and I can help you in all kinds of ways, including a sizable amount of money for you. On the other hand I can also cause you- shall I say- certain kinds of discomfort. You know, a house could burn down suddenly, your little grandson might be involved in a “hit- and- run” accident. It's not worth taking unnecessary risks in life…

To get to the point, my influence is spread well beyond the walls of the jail. Because of this I'm giving you an offer which it will be hard for you to refuse.”

The prisoner gave the jailor a bold, hard stare and continued: “This is my suggestion, which you would do well not to refuse – since I intend to escape, I need some help from you. The next time that one of the prisoners dies, after the bell rings, go and bring the body and place it in the coffin as usual. The only difference will be that you don't hammer nails into the coffin. Leave it unlocked in an unlocked room and take off the lights. At the same time I will break out of my cell, sneak into the morgue and get into the coffin. You will come ten minutes later, close the coffin with nails, and place the certificate with the personal details of the deceased on the coffin. Then you will take both of us in the car to the cemetery and bury us. Bury us and then leave and after say, quarter of an hour max, come back to the cemetery, remove the dirt, open up the coffin, take me out and… all will be good. You will get cash, your house won't get burnt suddenly in the middle of the night…

The jailor knew that the threats were real. It's not worth getting into trouble with a felon who has strong connections. The income he would receive would also be very welcome, since his pension from the police was not the most generous. He therefore agreed to the prisoner's suggestion.

A few days after this the familiar sound of the bell announcing the death of a prisoner resounded in the jail. The dead man was taken to the morgue and placed in a coffin. In the meantime the prisoner serving life broke out of his cell and slipped into the morgue. He lifted the lid of the coffin and slid inside.

After a few minutes of tense waiting he heard footsteps. Then the coffin shuddered as the hammer nailed it down securely. The prisoner felt that he was being lifted up together with the coffin and heard groans and heavy breathing. The coffin was placed in a special car.

After a ride of a quarter of an hour the jailor, coffin, dead prisoner and live stowaway all arrived at the cemetery. The prisoner in the coffin was delighted. He was already well on his way to freedom!

The grave was already dug and prepared and the coffin was lowered carefully into it. Dirt was thrown onto the coffin and covered it totally. The prison service car moved off and the coffin remained underground, with the prisoner smiling broadly inside..

In another few minutes the old jailor would return, take off the dirt, remove the nails and …the ordeal would be over! He would be out of jail, free and happy!

Time passed slowly. Ten minutes passed, fifteen, half an hour had already elapsed… and the jailor hadn't yet arrived. The prisoner felt both worried and infuriated – had the old jailor deceived him??

The prisoner lit a match which he had taken with him from the jail and he saw…. that lying next to him motionless in the coffin was the old jailor. He was the one for whom the bells had tolled…

Needless to say, the prisoner did not go free in the end.

A  person can make plans.. he may want everything to progress according to plan, he may not compromise on less. But not everything is in our hands.

“Many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but the counsel of G-d will prevail”

The 90-10 Principle

Steven Covey, the author of the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, presents the “90-10 principle” in his book.

As is well known, many events which occur in our lives are beyond our control. However we do control our reactions to those events.

Regarding our reactions we have free choice and this choice has a huge effect on our lives. Covey maintains that 10% is the events themselves- which in most cases we have no control over, while the other 90% remains in our hands.

For example, if a person G-d forbid were to lose his sight due to illness or an accident, he cannot change that reality. His eyesight has been taken from him and he remains with the unpleasant consequences of his situation. Without doubt it is difficult to function without the ability to see. Some aspects of human functioning are impossible.

Despite this, the person now had in his hands a very important choice: Should he despair and cry all day over his fate? Should he sit in his house idle, without functioning or taking care of his own needs? Should he be angry with the entire world and make a nuisance of himself for those around him?

He could act in this way but he could also choose to cope with his disability and derive the most from those “percent” which are still in his control. He could practice finding solutions for issues, endeavor to continue to work or study, maintain communication with the world. He could take issue with the natural feelings of self-pity and despair and maintain good relations with family members and friends.

He could live a life of activity, satisfaction and joy.

The occurrence was entirely out of his control. Yet his attitude regarding this occurrence was largely in his hands. The difference that this choice made for him was highly significant.

Our choices are not just significant with regard to dramatic and momentous occurrences. We must make choices every day, many times a day. Our choice is important even regarding totally banal items.

The car broke down?

There's a strike in the bank?

The food got burnt?

The flight was delayed due to a technical problem?

These occurrences are not in our hands, but the choice of how to respond to them is in our hands. This choice is a kind of test and it had many important consequences.

The chocolate milk was spilt and the rest is history

Your wife gave birth, Thank G-d. You are alone at home, you have the complicated job of organizing the kids and sending them to school and kindergarten. You prepare a hurried breakfast, try and make them move faster, because you yourself have to hurry to your office.

Just then your little daughter spills her chocolate milk by mistake. On you. You have no control over this, but the rest of the scenario does depend on you. Possibility A: You fly into a temper, scold her and lose control. You shout: “What did you do? I don't believe it, these are my last trousers! I don't even have a replacement shirt! Move, don't you see what you've done?!”. The poor mite can hardly hold back her tears and the other kids give her support, which doesn't add respect to you: “Why are you shouting at her, Daddy? She didn't mean it!”.

Their defense of her behavior –which was basically correct – just makes you more annoyed, and you don't keep silent. You bark at them to run to their classes. The young girl runs to her room to cry. You begin to iron another shirt but because you are tense it becomes much more difficult. You ask the girl to just hurry up already and run to her schoolbus, but she is crying and doesn’t want to go. You get more irritated and in the meantime she is late for her schoolbus.

Visibly annoyed, you tell her: “Enough already, come and I'll take you.” You run to the car and realize that there's no chance of arriving on time to work, since driving the car to the school means a half-hour delay at least.

You start speeding and instead of your regular 50 km an hour, you drive at 80-90 km an hour until suddenly an unidentified traffic police car stops you and you finish the story with an 850 shekel fine and enough points to ensure that you will have to attend a driver correction course.

Your already jangled nerves are close to blowing up as you get into the car, knowing that you don't have money to pay the fine. You drop your daughter at her school and she doesn't even say goodbye to you. It's a morning you won't be forgetting soon.

You hurry to work – already 40 minutes late. Of course there is no parking. You park on a red line, praying that you will not get a ticket, and run into the office. After the elevator finally arrives and starts its slow journey upwards you realize that you have left your briefcase in the car. You go back just in time to witness- helplessly- as the parking inspector writes you a 500 shekel ticket.

Oy, what an awful day!

I could go on much more, but let's stop here and ask: What caused this terrible day?

Did the chocolate milk which spilled trigger all the other annoying occurrences?

Is the only culprit your daughter, who mistakenly dropped her cup?

Maybe the unidentified policeman was the cause of all the problems?

All these are not the correct answers. The principle, and maybe even the only cause which might have had the ability to change 90% of the scenario is….you!

True, the chocolate milk was spilt. So what?

You could go and change your shirt, big deal, and everything would continue as usual. The kids could even learn from you an amazing lesson in “how to behave when under pressure. They could see how good attributes are manifested in a person of character…

The girl is crying, and you hug her and say to her: It doesn't matter, it happened to me once or twice as well.”

The whole scenario could have changed dramatically for the good.

Ten percent of what happens to us – is not in our hands, but 90% is. Let's remember that and realize that at any given minute we can stop and change the scenario for the better.


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