Who doesn't prefer for things to go the way we'd like them to? But when they don't and we stubbornly refuse to accept a reasonable compromise, we can really lose out. In this week's Torah portion, Pharaoh stubbornly refuses to listen to God and free the Jewish slaves. Even without the slaves he still would have been the most powerful king in the world. But rather than give in, he was willing to destroy himself and his whole empire. We can learn from here how destructive it can be to behave stubbornly over relatively small things.
In our story, a boy discovers the price of being stubborn.
I'm the kind of guy who's used to having things go my way. My motto has always been "It's either my way or no way." But as I sat home all alone, bored as anything, I was starting to wonder if maybe there was another way.
The day had started out great. My brothers and I were all excited about our annual family trip to the Safari Land Zoo. We got dressed in record time, packed the cooler full of good stuff, and were ready to go.
But when my mom pulled up in the mini-van, we all began fighting over who would sit in the front seat. I called it first, but when I jumped in, my brother, Joe, was already sitting there!
Mom explained that we both couldn't sit in the front - there was only one seatbelt - and she couldn't drive until we worked it out. She suggested since we both wanted it, we should compromise: one of us could sit there on the way to the zoo, and the other one on the way back.
Joe went for the idea. After all, why shouldn't he? He was the one who stole my seat.
"No way!" I said, folding my arms, "I called the seat first, and I should have it both ways. If I can't, I'm not going!"
My mom and brothers tried to get me to change my mind. "What a shame it would be, Andy, if you missed out on a trip you've been waiting for all year," she said. Joe even offered to let me have the seat first.
But I stuck to my guns. "It's either my way, or no way."
When they realized they weren't going to get me to budge, my mom said, "Fine, you have made your decision," and drove off. I didn't care. I might have missed the zoo, but the important thing was that I made my point. I felt like a real hero for not giving in.
I went into the house, sat down and called up a few friends. But for some reason no one was around. I guess the long weekend was a family trip time for a lot of the guys. I flipped on my favorite CD. But somehow I could hardly pay attention to the tunes. I kept thinking about the zoo and all the cool shows and exhibits there, that everyone - except me - would be seeing.
I began to wonder if sitting in the front seat was really so important that it was worth missing the whole trip over. But I quickly pushed the thought out of my mind. I had made my point, and not given in, and that was worth it all. Wasn't it?
The clock seemed to be moving at a snail's pace. I went from books to games, to anything else I could think of to pass the time. Finally, after what seemed like forever, they came back. Everyone looked like they had a great time. My brothers must have felt bad that I missed the trip so they tried to fill me in.
I laughed at some of the funny stories they told about dancing bears, and an elephant that could stand on two feet. "But the funniest thing, Andy," Joe said, "was the monkey show. The man told us about the painless way they trap monkeys in the jungle. You see, they put out this box with a banana in it, and a hole just big enough for the monkey to stick his hand into. But once the monkey grabs the banana he can't get his hand out of the hole again. Now all he has to do is let go of the banana and he'd be free, but the monkey is so stubborn that he won't let go of that one little banana, even if it means he stays stuck in the trap and gets caught! Crazy, no?"
Joe burst out with a laugh, and I did too until I stopped short and almost felt like crying instead. Hadn't I just done the same thing as that dumb monkey? Because I hadn't been willing 'let go' of that one little thing about having to have my own way about the seats, I had 'trapped' myself into missing out on the trip of the year. I think from now on I'm going to think twice about whether what I'm standing up for is worth it or not, and whether always insisting on having it "my way or no way" is acting like a hero, or just a stubborn monkey!
Q. How did Andy feel at first about his decision not to go to the zoo?
A. He felt like he was right to stay home since he didn't get his way and sit in the front seat.
Q. How did he feel at the end?
A. He felt like he had acted stubbornly by having given up a great trip for no good reason.
Q. Why didn't Andy find the 'monkey story' funny?
A. Everyone saw how foolish the monkey had been to give up his freedom just because he wouldn't let go of a banana. His stubbornness wasn't worth the price. Andy realized he had done the same thing by giving up a once-a-year trip over something as unimportant as sitting in the front seat. So laughing at the monkey meant laughing at himself.
Q. Is there ever a time when it is good to be stubborn?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is the difference between being principled and being stubborn?
A. Being principled means having a clear set of well thought out values and being willing to make sacrifices to uphold them. It is a very positive trait. Stubbornness is the negative trait of being unwilling to compromise or change one's mind simply out of a desire to have one's own way.
Q. If we run into a stubborn person how can we help him get 'unstuck'?
A. Often a person's stubbornness is his way of saying he feels like he isn't being heard. If we make an extra effort to try to understand his point of view and let him know we do, he will often become much more open to hearing our side of things. We should also be willing to compromise wherever we can, and be sure we aren't acting a bit stubborn ourselves.