A statement from Jeff Bezo’s (Amazon Founder) speech often resonated in my head, “It’s harder to be kind than clever”. The statement is simple yet holds a message that may not be very evident unless a situation unfolds it. It may sound like a straight forward comparison between kindness and cleverness, but recently an excerpt from Paulo Coelho’s writings simplified that balancing act of self control or personal leadership.
A young man said to the abbot of a monastery - ‘I would really like to become a monk, but I have learned nothing of importance in my life. My father only taught me how to play chess, and I was told that all games are sinful.’
The abbot called for a chessboard and summoned a monk to play with the young man. However, before the game began, he added: - ‘We also need diversion, but we will have only the best players here. If our monk loses, he will leave the monastery, thus creating an opening for you.’
The abbot was deadly serious. The young man played an aggressive game, but then he noticed the saintly look in the monk’s eyes, and from then on, he began to play deliberately badly. He decided that he would rather lose because he felt that the monk could prove far more useful to the world than him.
Suddenly, the abbot overturned the chessboard onto the floor.
‘You learned far more than you were taught,’ he said. ‘You have the powers of concentration necessary to win and you are capable of fighting for what you want, but you also have compassion and the ability to sacrifice yourself for a noble cause. You have shown yourself capable of balancing discipline and mercy; welcome to our monastery!’
Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy; they are given after all. Choices can be hard; they are taken.