Beware the Camel in the Tent

01.28.2015 By

From our latest Discussion Paper…

Our Director of Research, Vijay Viswanathan, was six years old when his grandfather visited him from India. A loud and animated man whose hands waved when he spoke, Thatha (“grandfather” in Tamil) was a prodigious storyteller. He often took Vijay on walks to the grocery store where the two would collect fruits and vegetables for the family. During these times Thatha would tell stories, and if Vijay listened well, he was rewarded with a chocolate bar.

It was on one of these walks that Vijay first heard the fable of the Arab and the Camel. According to this classic tale, one cold night, a camel asks his master if he can put his head in the tent for warmth. “By all means and welcome,” said the man; and the camel stretches his head into the tent. Soon after, the camel inquires if he may also bring his neck and front legs inside. Again, the master agrees.

Finally, the camel asks, “May I not stand wholly within?” With pity, the master beckons him into the warm tent. But when the camel comes forward it becomes clear that the tent is too small for them both. “I think,” the camel said, “that there is not room for both of us here. It will be best for you to stand outside, as you are the smaller; there will then be room enough for me.” And with that, the man is forced outside of his tent.

The fable is a warning that small, seemingly harmless acts—even made with good intentions—can sometimes have negative repercussions. It is a tale our team often associates with values, and considers actively at this time of the year. After all, the creeping camel appears in many aspects of our lives…but only in rare situations is the camel more detrimental than when he eats away at our principles. And what better time than the beginning of a new year to reflect on what we hold most dear?

Values shape the outcomes of our relationships, careers, investments and society, and therefore, are far too important to leave to chance or camels. It is worthwhile to reflect on them for they have a material impact on our decisions and will manifest in our lives whether or not we explicitly consider them. Better to be conscious of our values than to leave them to fate. Especially since we will all let the camel into the tent at some point—and when and how we do it should be a deliberate choice.


Read the full discussion paper here.


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