The Shoe Maker

There once was a shoemaker who was a very happy man. While he fixed shoes he sang at the top of his lungs, and delighted passers by laughed and waved to him. People often stopped at his shop simply to share his happiness.

Another man in town was an unhappy banker. He never sang or laughed, and could hardly sleep. At first he was not charmed by the shoemaker's joy, but eventually he found it in­fectious. He decided to talk to the shoemaker about the secret be­hind his happiness.

They talked for some time, and the banker became quite cu­rious about one subject. 'Excuse me for asking,' he said, 'but are you a wealthy man? How much money do you make in a year?'

The shoemaker thought for a moment. 'I can't really tell you an exact amount. I work; some days people buy, some days they don't. But my family is hardly ever in need.'

'That is delightfully simple,' said the banker. 'Because you have so generously shared your life story with me, I would like to ensure that your financial needs are met. Here is a gift of three hundred golden coins. Use them whenever you need to.'

The shoemaker was overjoyed. He took the golden coins home and hid them under the floorboards of his house. From that point on, though, many things changed in his life. Con­cerned about the coins, he often left his shop to go home and check that no one had stolen them. He lost sleep at night worry­ing about the possibility that thieves might plot to steal the coins. His singing was not as cheerful as it had been. And when people dropped in to chat, he eyed them with suspicion.

Then one day the shoemaker took the golden coins and went to see the banker. 'Your gift was generous, and I thank you,' the shoemaker said. 'But I cannot afford to own these golden coins. Please take them back, and I will again be able to enjoy singing and sleeping, and laughing with my friends. When I took these coins and hid them, it seems that my happiness was hidden away as well.' (Adapted from a fable by Jean La Fontaine)

Living simply is about living happily. It is about making choices that deepen our joy in life because they focus on the essentials, not on illusions of what brings happiness.

The 'big illusion' in our society is that having more­buying more, using more resources, piling up wealth and se­curity-will make us happy. The shoemaker discovered this illusion for what it was before it destroyed him, and he re­turned to living a happy and simple life.

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17 January 2021

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Jean La Fontaine

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Discuss the following:

  1. What did the shoe maker learn?
  2. What choices have you made which are the opposite to simplicity?
  3. Imagine the choices you are called to make in the future. How can this story help shape these choices?
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