An Old Tale. A Short Story.
If you can give reasonable answers to the following questions then please, read no more, this piece is not for you. But if perhaps, you, like me, pause and furrow your brow when you try to come up with a response, then read on - it could just be that maybe we have more in common than we thought.
Why are women, but not men, expected to wear makeup? Why are high-heels sold as women’s shoes?
Exactly – why indeed?
All questions have answers, so I am sorry to spoil the suspense by telling you that this very question does too. But just because all questions have answers, it doesn’t mean that they are easy to find, or easy to understand, or easy to swallow. And sometimes an answer is so well disguised that even though it is right under your nose, you simply cannot see it. Or maybe you just don’t want to.
Let me tell you a story to explain what I mean, a story I heard a long time ago. This is a very old story, but how old I couldn’t say, it would be rude to discuss a story’s age. A story knows that wisdom comes through living, and living means surviving, so the older the better. In which case, let us all agree that this story is very, very old. And here is how this very, very old story goes...
There once was a shopkeeper who sold clothes. This shopkeeper sold enough to make a living but not enough to be rich. But like most people in the town, the shopkeeper wanted very much to be very rich and so, was very unhappy.
Next door to the clothing shop there was a newsstand. The owner of the newsstand also made enough money to live in this simple town but alas, not enough money to be rich. This shopkeeper was also very unhappy.
Next door to the newsstand there was a pharmacy. The pharmacist had enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table, to buy a new coat when it was winter and a new hat in the summer, but there was never enough money to be rich. And so, this shopkeeper too was also very unhappy.
One day after work, these 3 unhappy shopkeepers were talking before going home for the night. They were all dreaming of a time where they would have so many customers coming through their doors that they would make enough money to be very, very rich. That would be bliss, they agreed. But how would they do this, they wondered? The owner of the newsstand was very good at drawing and even better at writing and came up with an idea.
“What if I make an advertisement for our shops and place it at the front the street to attract more customers?”
The 3 shopkeepers all thought this was a very good idea, and so they arranged for it to be so.
The advertisement was perfect – the pictures were colourful and the writing was bold. However, despite this, weeks went by and not a single penny more was made at any of the 3 shops.
The shopkeepers were very disappointed but they were not yet defeated. They decided they needed to rethink their idea. They began to realise that the truth they were writing on their advertisement was not making them any money. So if the truth wouldn’t work, maybe a lie would...
They spent many hours thinking of a clever lie – they wrote and rewrote, thought and argued and bickered. They did this for many hours, over and over and over again. Then finally, in the early hours of the morning, they settled on a plan.
Just in the same way that a question begs an answer, the shopkeepers knew that a problem begged a solution. If they could think of a problem and be the only shopkeepers in all the land who sold the solution then surely people from far and wide would travel to their shops.
So the shopkeepers got to work thinking of as many problems as they could. After all, more problems meant more solutions, and more solutions meant more money, and more money meant the 3 shopkeepers could finally fulfil their dream of being very, very rich.
“Why don’t we start off by telling women that they are not tall enough? Then we can make a shoe that has a heel to make them taller. And I can sell these new high-heeled shoes in my clothing store” the shopkeeper said.
“A shoe with a high heel?” the pharmacist asked, “that doesn’t sound very comfortable at all... maybe I can sell a lotion to soothe sore feet?”
“What a fabulous idea!” the shopkeeper replied, “that way every time somebody buys a new pair of shoes they will have to buy a bottle of lotion which means we both will make a lot of money”.
So the 3 shopkeepers got to work, the owner of the newsstand created the advertisement, the shopkeeper of the clothing store started to learn how to make high-heeled shoes, and the pharmacist started to make lotion for sore feet.
Within only a few days all of the items were sold. The shopkeepers had made as much money in a week as they did in a month! Excited by this they continued on with their plan. The shopkeeper from the newsstand was paid to create all sorts of advertisements and put them in the town for everyone to see.
“Your skin is not young enough – buy this anti-aging cream!”
“Your lips are not red enough – buy this new lipstick!”
“Your waist is not small enough – buy this new belt!”
“Your hair is the wrong colour – buy this new hair dye!”
“Your cheeks are not rosy enough – buy this new blush!”
“Your nails are too plain – buy this nail polish!”
“Your eyelashes are not long enough – buy these fake lashes and stick them on instead!”
“The hair on your body needs to go – buy this wax to rip it off!”
“Your head needs more hair – let us sew some more on!”
The 3 shop keepers made up more and more problems. They started sounding more and more ridiculous. They were sure that people would soon realise that everything they had told them was a lie. But nobody did. And so, they continued on with their plan.
The 3 shop keepers made a lot of money. They made so much money that they realised they would not have enough time in their life to spend it all themselves. So they started to grow their business. They hired more employees. They built new shops. They travelled to other towns. They travelled to other countries. They continued to spread their lies and make more, and more, and more money.
One night the 3 shop keepers went out for dinner. They saw all the women around them dressed in the shoes they had sold, wearing the makeup they had invented, reading the lies they had written. There wasn’t a single woman sitting in the restaurant who had not had her hair plucked, her waist cinched, her heels on, her face painted, her hair dyed. The shop keepers laughed – “every woman in this room has paid for our dinner!” they said and ordered another bottle of wine.
The 3 shop keepers were very sly and very greedy and they had more money than they could have ever wished for. But the 3 shopkeepers still felt very unhappy. Their hearts felt empty. They did not know what to do. They searched for an answer to their unhappiness by looking outward to the world, rather than looking inward into themselves. They searched far and wide and although they found many people selling cures to their unhappiness, none would last.
Because the 3 shopkeepers could not cure their misery, they distracted themselves from their pain by continuing to work.
One of the shopkeepers said, “a woman who wears makeup will need to take it with her when she goes out – let’s take out all of the pockets from the clothing we make”.
“Why would we do that?” the other two shopkeepers asked.
“Because if there are no pockets, people will need to buy a bag”, the shopkeeper replied with a sly smile.
“Ahh I see, that is a very good idea indeed, but let’s leave some of the pockets in some of the clothing we make, otherwise people might start to get suspicious!” the pharmacist suggested.
And so the story goes. More problems created, more solutions invented and more money made at the expense of many, many people.
The 3 shopkeepers knew that a person’s beauty is not something that can be put in a bottle, not made in a factory or invented in a lab. They knew a person’s beauty is found in their courage, their kindness, their minds, their love, their patience, their talents and their strengths. Real beauty is not something the 3 shopkeepers could have made any money from at all. But a lie, that, they decided, can take on any shape and be sold at any price.
The very sad truth from this very, very old story is that the 3 shopkeepers knew this all along. But because they wanted to be very, very rich they decided to spread their lies instead of tell the truth. Many moons ago, on that fateful night the 3 shopkeepers had spent squabbling over their great and cunning plan, they had agreed not to talk of the truth to a single soul.
Yes, the 3 shopkeepers ended up very, very rich indeed. They were able to buy anything and everything they desired, but their unhappy hearts never felt full. They spent the rest of their lives searching for the piece of their heart that they had lost those many moons ago, that night they decided to trick people into fearing problems that didn’t ever even need to exist.
When the 3 shopkeepers were very, very old they finally realised that they had I fact been tricked too. Maybe it would have been better to have spent their lives learning how to fill their hearts rather than fill their pockets. Maybe everything they had believed wasn’t so true after all...
And here the story ends, with the truth that the 3 shopkeepers tried so hard to hide; a person’s beauty has nothing to do with things that can be bought or sold. No, beauty is already inside of you; it is real, it is honest, it is true, it is yours.
People do not need to buy what they already own. But the 3 shopkeepers already knew that. And now you do too.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, S.KayWrite a Review