Behind The Counter
by Lyle R. Hill
“Read the sign for me, Grandpa.”
“C’mon, Grandpa, what does the sign say?” … It’s probably his favorite thing on earth … “Please, Grandpa.”
“OK, little guy. The sign says that the animal is an African impala and that it can run very fast. And not only can it run fast, it is also a great jumper. In fact, the sign says that the impala can cover a distance of up to 30 feet and reach a height of 12 feet in a single leap.”
“Is that really good, Grandpa?”
“Yes, it is, Jake. That’s very high … twice as high as Grandpa … and very far … as far as that trash can way over there,” I said, pointing to a waste receptacle about 25 feet from where we were standing.
“Grandpa,” he began, after a few minutes of silence, “if that impala can jump so high and so far, why doesn’t he jump out of his cage?”
Once again the little guy had come up with the big question. The cage that enclosed the impala had a fence that was only 5 feet high at best. And while there was a bit of a moat between the ground on which the impala stood and the outer edge of the pen, the total distance between what would have been a perfect launch point and total freedom couldn’t be more than 15 feet or so.
“Grandpa, why does he stay in there? Why doesn’t he jump out and run away?”
Now usually I’m as good as anyone at answering kid-type questions. Having raised three of my own and occasionally assisting with three grandsons, I’ve gotten quite good at answering all kinds of questions. This time, though, I didn’t have a response. But I knew that at this point in history, the entire part of the human race known as “grandfather” would be irreparably damaged forever if I didn’t come through, so I looked at him right in those eyes of wonderment and responded.
“Jake, he doesn’t jump out because the zookeeper told him not to.”
“Grandpa, that’s bediculous,” he shot back with a bit of a giggle.
Just then, one of the roving attendants walked by. I summoned him over and put the question to him.
“Well,” the soft spoken gentleman began, “the impala will never jump unless he can see where he’s going to land. The pen is arranged in such a way that the elevation of the ground and the strategic placement of shrubbery keeps the impala from clearly seeing the other side of the fence, so he will never attempt to jump free.”
The attendant told us a few more interesting facts about the animal and excused himself to assist another visitor. Then I did my best to explain all of this to Jake. Not wanting to waste an educational opportunity, I added a few thoughts of my own.
“You see, Jake, people are just like the animals. There are many, many people who will never take a chance to find out how far they could have gone because they can’t clearly see where it is they will land. They let the fear of failure keep them from ever trying to see just how far they could have gone. So they stay in their self-imposed cages their entire lives. I think this is particularly true in the business world.”
We left the impala exhibit and began walking toward the next cage area. I knew I had lost him with my overdone analogy, but sometimes he surprises me with his ability to grasp.
“Are people just like the animals?”
“Yes, they are, Jake, but you’ll understand it all better when you get older.”
“Read me the sign on that one, Grandpa,” the little guy said pointing to the pen we had just reached.
“The donkey,” I began to read, “is sure-footed, very stubborn, stands about 4 feet high at the shoulders and is commonly referred to as an ass.”
“Are some people like him, too, Grandpa?”
“Yes, there are lots of people just like him.”
Lyle R. Hill works almost every Saturday “behind the counter” at Glass America, a dealer of windows, doors, glass and other products. He is also president of Chicago-based MTH Industries, one of the largest specialty contractors in the world.
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