A wagon train of pioneers was headed across the western plains when a lookout spotted a cloud of dust in the distance moving toward them.
"Indians!" cried the leader of the pioneers. He ordered the wagons to form a circle behind a hill.
Soon, the Indians arrived, and the tall figure of an Indian Chief stood silhouetted against the sky. The leader of the pioneers decided to climb the hill, face the chief, and attempt to communicate.
From the start, it was evident that neither man could speak the other's language. After some give and take, the chief backed away and went quickly down the hill, and the leader of the pioneers returned to the wagon train.
"What happened?" the people asked.
"Well, as you saw, we couldn't speak each other's language. I drew a circle in the dust with my finger to show that we were all one country. He looked at the circle and drew a line through it. He meant, of course, that there are two nations - the white man's and the Indian's. But I pointed my finger to the sky to indicate that we were all one under God. Then he reached into his loin skins and took out an onion, which he gave to me. Naturally, I understood that it indicated the multiple layers of understanding available to everyone. To show him, I understood his meaning; I ate the onion. Then I reached into my coat and offered him an egg to show our goodwill, but he was too proud to accept my gift. He just turned and walked away."
Meanwhile, the Indians were taking arrows out of their quivers and readying their bows. The only needed the command of their Chief to attack. But the Chief held up his hand and began to tell them what had happened on the hilltop.
"When we came face-to-face," he said, "we immediately knew we did not speak the same tongue. That man then drew a circle in the dust. I knew he meant we were surrounded. I drew a line through the circle to show him that we would cut them in half. Then he raised his finger to the sky as if to say that he could take us on all by himself. Then I gave him an onion to tell him that he would soon taste the bitter tears of defeat and death. But he ate the onion in defiance! Then he showed me an egg to tell me how fragile our position is. Let's get out there!"
This is a case in which a disaster was averted through communication, but only because the communicators completely misunderstood each other. Dumb luck prevailed, and that's something none of us can count on anywhere. It behooves everyone to become an effective communicator. If you don't, you better circle the wagons.
From: Leadership...with a human touch, February 16, 1993, Pages 9-11
Author & Motivational Speaker
Terry is a sought after speaker who believes in the power of a story to motivate, inspire, and help others lead their uncommon and extraordinary lives. By combining his eleven-year cancer journey with his diverse business, athletic coaching, and hostage negotiating expertise, he delivers compelling yet relatable presentations for conferences, on-line events, panels, meetings, and seminars.