A monkey trainer went to his monkeys and told them:

“As regards your chestnuts: you are going to have three measures in the morning and four in the afternoon.”

At this they became angry. So he said: “All right, in that case I will give you four in the morning and three in the afternoon.” This time they were satisfied.

This is Chuang Tzu’s “Three in the Morning” as presented in  The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton.

The monkey trainer is skilled at something that I have always had trouble with: separating what I need (or want) from getting my way. He needed to ration out 7 chestnuts a day. It didn’t make a difference to him how the chestnuts were distributed — just how many. By separating that from insisting that the monkeys accept his offer, he got what he needed.

My Father used to say “Give ’em what they want and they’ll leave you alone.”

My father was an Army guy, where this advice is pretty obvious. There’s little room for negotiation in a strict hierarchy, and even less for a compulsive contrarian like myself. It’s a wonder I lasted 2 enlistments.

But Dad applied it to his regular job too. He worked in a quasi-sales/engineering role so keeping clients happy while protecting his employer’s bottom line was his bread-and-butter.

Like many things my father used to say, I often think of this right after a situation where remembering it would have been a better strategy than what I ended up doing.

A few weeks ago our car got a flat tire. Well, it didn’t get the flat so much as develop it. Dagmar noticed one tire was very low and I filled it. A few days later it was completely flat. This tire really wanted a lot of attention, perhaps even a career change as a backyard swing.

This caught me off guard since I thought of the car as “new” and “low mileage.” Then I realized it was 9 years old and mileage didn’t matter: tires dry out and crack and I had somehow managed to keep a single car long enough for that to happen to one tire, and the other three were just biding their time.

We’ve just moved to this area and my regular guy for auto repairs, an “independent” that has his place walking distance from our old house, is too far away now. I discovered him when the Honda dealer “recommended” $1200 in repairs and he did what was actually needed for less than $250.  But the logistics of getting the car there and then back home would have been too much.

So I was going to have to find a new place.

There’s a tire place about a mile and a half from our new home. I called them from work and they assured me they had the tires I needed. He cut me off before I could ask some qualifying questions about type, but I assumed (oops) that the tires for a 2007 Fit were a common size that most places would keep in stock, in multiples of four.

So naturally when I got there the next day they didn’t have the tires.

I can laugh now, but it was truly an exercise in frustration. The “salesperson” (I use the term loosely) kept pushing me toward the cheapest tires they had. When I asked hime for a price to get him away from me long enough to look for what I actually wanted he discovered they only had 2 in stock.

When I found what I wanted (all-weather radials with a long warranty) he found they had only one of those.

This lead to him asking if I could have the flat tire replaced now (I drove there on the “fake” spare) and then coming back the next day for the other three. This didn’t work for me. I was already taking a “long lunch” on a work-from-home day and had to go back to the office tomorrow. Since they didn’t open until 9, dropping the car off and then taking the bus would lead to getting to work too late.

I was really annoyed that they didn’t have tires when I had called to confirm the day before. This was foremost on my mind, was influencing my attitude about the entire situation.

Finally the manager showed up. He offered to have me leave the car overnight. I immediately became even more upset. How was that going to help?!? I wanted tires! They didn’t have them!!

He pointed out that I had mentioned taking the bus in to work tomorrow. I could pick up the car after work. They were open late tomorrow.

The manager figured out what I needed and offered it. I just needed to get off my high horse long enough to hear him.

I left the car. They ended up getting the tires early enough to finish it the same day anyway.

Focusing on the desired result, rather than short term “moral” victories is a skill I need to cultivate. I wish I realized this long ago.

photo credit: miss_millions