By Dan Warren

After racking my brain for the better part of a week I was finally able to devise a seasonal bonus plan focused on our mid-level college supervisors that would accumulate into a sizable amount of money for a young adult. I was really excited about sharing the news at the summer’s Leadership kick-off meeting.

During the meeting I initially held their attention at the mere mention of extra cash, but as I dove headlong into the details I witnessed the inevitable slipping of teenage attention. As they began to realize they wouldn’t be receiving checks at the door their eyes stealthily shifted to their cell phones, the passing of notes, whispering or just zoning out.

At this point I grew extremely exasperated at their evident need for “immediate gratification” taking precedence over showing patience and hearing out the merits of a long term rewards plan. I decided to switch gears in an attempt to regain their attention. I abruptly stopped mid-sentence and announced in a voice resounding enough to distract them from their texting and back on me.

“Did anyone read the paper this morning and see the bizarre outcome of a story taking place in a small Texas border town?”

It seems a villager who was a vendor of firewood had heard that the village over the mountainous pass was experiencing a firewood shortage. Being a capitalist and wanting to take full advantage of the situation he decided to make a trek to the other village. His dilemma was that if he wanted to make a sizable profit he would have to take a large quantity of wood. Not having a cart or a mule he started asking around about the availability of any pack animals to rent. He finally came across a man who was willing to rent the him a mule but was concerned about the amount of time the mule would be away. The wood vendor said he planned to stay in the neighboring village until his wood was sold out – which could take up to a week. The owner of the mule explained he would have to charge the wood vendor by the day. This was unacceptable to the vendor because he only needed the mule for transport and he would easily be able to walk home alone once the burden of his wood had been turned into cash. They finally reached an agreement. For a nominal fee (apart from the cost of renting the mule) the owner of the mule would accompany the vendor to the next village and after the wood was unloaded, he would return with the mule to his own village.

So with the deal being settled, bright and early the next morning, both men (and the mule) set out for the neighboring village. They had traveled for a few hours and the sun had climbed high in the sky making the journey unbearably hot. The mountain side was barren, having no outcroppings, trees or shrubs to cast even the remnant of any shade. The men decided to stop and rest and as they came to a halt the vendor immediately sat down in the shadow of the ass and began to relax. This was quite an affront to the mule’s owner who demanded the vendor get up and allow him to sit in the shade created by the mule. The vendor reminded him that he had rented the mule and therefore he had every right to occupy the shade. The owner clarified that indeed the vendor had rented the mule but there was never any discussion over renting the mule’s shadow and therefore he had no right to rest in the shade cast off the mule. This notion was preposterous to the vendor who pointed out that whatever was attached to the donkey is rightfully included in the rental fee. The owner retorted that the vendor had rented the mule and then had opted to also rent cargo straps as part of the transaction. The mule is one thing, the cargo straps were an additional rented item and the shadow is also a separate rental option. He went on to say that if the vendor had wanted to rent the shadow he could have done so very cheaply at the time of the transaction but as for now the shadow was rightly the property of the owner.

Their rest period ended but the debate over the shadow raged on for the entirety of the trip. Both men were so emotionally charged that the matter ended up in court. Amazingly enough the first court froze in a deadlock on the decision of who had rights to the shadow and the case was pushed up to a higher court.

After a 5 week trial the jury deliberated for over 3 agonizing days to reach a decisive verdict which was finally announced today…

You could have heard a pin drop as they all waited to hear the verdict… I smiled – shook my head in exasperation and simply said…

“Y’all are bored to death at the details of how, over time, you could earn a sizable bonus, but you are riveted to the point of being on the edge of your seat — you’re reeling with anticipation to find out who owns an Ass’s Shadow.”

This story originates in 384 BC, Athens where Demosthenes (said to be Greece’s Greatest Orator) found himself frustrated while delivering a rather mundane speech about the state of the city’s infrastructure.

It seems that peoples fascination with gossip over less exciting important matters has stood the test of time.

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