Stories serve all kinds of purposes. Some entertain, some excite, some comfort, and others teach. The story I’d like to share with you today is one I heard a while ago. At first sight, it doesn’t appear to offer some moral or a new perspective. But that’s the beauty of it; once you look deeper into the story and look for its potential depth, it presents itself to you. a moral story designed to teach you something about life entertainingly.
As I retell the story in my own way, try to actively think about what it means and what you can learn from it. Isn’t that the beauty of stories? Everybody can get something different out of them, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below if you’re willing to share. For now, though, enjoy the following story…
Once Upon A Time...
There once lived a priest from a small village known for his religious devotion and kind heart. But like the rest of us, our protagonist was not perfect. His heart was whole, but his mind was often empty, and his innocence and naivety were well-known by all. For the most part, though, his fellow villagers respected the man for his religious rituals and general devotion to the community. It wasn’t uncommon for villagers to leave gifts as payment for his services.
One day, after a particularly long ceremony with a wealthy villager, the priest was given a goat as a way of a thank you. Grateful for such a generous gift, the priest stammered his thanks as he threw the goat over his shoulder to carry back to his home on the outskirts of the village.
The goat was heavy; such was the wealth of the villager. Still, the priest continued through the market square, past the village well, and towards the long stretch of road that would eventually take him home.
Predators vs Prey
Unknown to the innocent priest, three thieves had been watching him struggle with the goat towards the village edge. Wanting to have that goat to themselves, they took advantage of the priest’s naivety and formed a plan.
The goat was fat and would easily feed the three thieves for the next week. But they also knew that the priest was much-loved amongst the villagers, so if they were to steal the goat, they would have to do so by fooling the priest. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t look good for them, for the rest of the town would do if they found out. Let alone be prosecuted.
After a moment’s more whispering, the three thieves split up. They sprinted along shortcuts that would take them to three positions along the priest’s way.
Once all three were in position, they waited…
"Why the Dog Sir?"
As soon as the priest reached the first thief’s position, a cunning man emerged from the bend ahead and, smiling at the priest, said, “Sir, I have to ask – why do you carry a dog on your shoulders? Surely it is trained enough to walk beside you?”
Confused, the priest replied, ‘A dog? My dear man, can’t you see that this is a goat? It was given to me not a moment ago!’
Still smiling, the thief continued, “I can assure you, Sir, that what you carry is a dog. I’m sorry you don’t believe me.” Then, leaving the priest rooted in surprise, the thief continued down the path without looking back.
"Does this look like a Goat to you?"
The priest looked at the goat upon his shoulders carefully for a moment, shook his head, and then continued down the road, muttering about childish tricks.
Eventually, the priest reached the second thief’s position. A young woman emerged from behind a sandbank off the side of the road and said, ‘Good evening, might I ask why you’re carrying a dead calf on your shoulders? Surely you have a horse and cart for that?’
Perplexed by the woman’s words, the priest replied, ‘A dead calf? My dear lady, can’t you see that this is a goat? How could you mistake a dead calf for a living goat?’
Undisturbed by the priest’s words, the woman went on to say, ‘I am sorry Sir, but it is you that is mistaken. What you are carrying on your shoulders is clearly a dead calf. Either you are playing tricks on me, or you simply don’t know what a calf looks like. But you go and have a good day!’
And with that, the second thief continued on the road without looking back.
"Isn't that Donkey too heavy?"
This time the priest became more concerned. How could two different people claim the goat on his shoulders was a dog and a calf? It made no sense. With his confusion growing, the priest had no choice but to continue his path home.
After only a short time, the priest reached the third thief’s position, and when he did, an older gentleman walked toward him with a look of concern on his face. With a laugh in his voice when he spoke, the man said, ‘Sir, I must say I’m amazed? I stand here and wonder how one man can have as much strength as you to carry a donkey on their back!’
At this, the priest really began to panic. First a dog, then a calf, and now a donkey? That was it: The goat must have been some sort of ghost that could morph into different creatures! Was he seeing things that weren’t there? If that were true, his reputation and place as the village priest would be tainted and destroyed! “Oh, God!”
In fear that he was losing his mind, the priest hurled the supposedly metamorphosing creature onto the roadside and ran toward home as fast as he could.
The priest didn’t hear the laughter of the three thieves as he ran along the road to his home but laugh they did.
‘What a fool!’ the cunning man giggled.
‘How stupid!’ the young woman laughed.
Once the older gentleman had dried his eyes from laughing so hard, he said, ‘Shall we take our goat home and enjoy a feast?’
And so they did.
The Moral of the Story
You can take many things from this story, so I’d love to hear your thoughts below. For me, though, the story’s moral is more complex than I had initially thought when reading it for the first time.
Initially, I thought the story’s moral was simply not believing everything you are told. And yes, this is an excellent moral because so much information and misinformation are available. If you believed everything everyone told you, you’d never have a well-informed opinion about anything. But then I thought about the story some more and came up with a different moral that I’ll take away.
For me, this story is about being confident in your own beliefs. It’s about having a solid sense of who you are and what you believe, not allowing anybody who comes into your life to change that or push you towards a different path. Change is good as you learn new things; we should never set opinions in stone. But we shouldn’t be easily influenced by others around us either.
The priest was easy to manipulate in this story because he didn’t have firm beliefs or confidence in what he knew to be true. That’s why the thieves could convince him that the goat on his shoulders was all those different animals.
This story is about a goat, but it translates to real life. Many of us have our plans, visions and ideas of what we want to do and things we want to achieve. As such, friction, resistance and obstacles are in your way, many of which will come from others. The worst thing is sometimes those ‘others’ are our thoughts and what we tell ourselves.
I’m not telling you to be arrogant or stubborn and not listen to anyone. But again, balance; in moderation and context. You must be particular about the voices you pay attention to and determine the impact, value and intention behind those words and the mouths speaking them – even if that includes yourself.
Ultimately, the moral of the story is that you have to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. So, look at where you are in your life right now. How confident are you in what you believe? How can you ensure that you aren’t open to being influenced by others – that you are your own person with thoughts and feelings just as valid as those around you?
If you’re struggling to answer those questions, now might be a good time to reflect on this story as I have done and try to figure out what you stand for. Otherwise, you stand to lose a lot more than a goat. Whilst the priest lost only a goat, you can’t afford to have your vision, dreams and ideas stolen from you…