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Recently I read a short story entitled “The Tale of the Merchant” [1] which gives an anecdotal account of some of the attempts of some 17th Century Indian town guards to clamp down on food smuggling during a famine.

One of the suspects was a rice merchant.  Each and every time he came into town the guards stopped and searched him thoroughly but nothing was ever found.  On one occasion the guards soaked the merchant’s sacks in water along with all his clothes.  Another time the entire contents of the merchant’s sacks were burnt but nothing was ever found.

Many years later the merchant happened to bump into one of the guards and the two of them fell into conversation.

“Do you remember all that smuggling during the famine?” asked the merchant

“Oh, yes, I remember” smiled the guard

“Tell me, did they ever catch the fellow”? enquires the merchant

“No” said the guard, “they never caught him.  Why, do you know who it was?”

“it was me,” was the response.

“You!” explained the guard.  “How could it be you?  We searched you and never found anything.  How could you be the smuggler?”

I was smuggling rice,” replied the merchant.

This tale is a very good reflection on life.  All too often, people over think things and because they assume that matters are more complicated than they actually are, problems that should be quite easily solved remain unsolved. In the context of a conflict or disagreement, over complicating matters increases tension and increases disharmony.

In the context of mediations and facilitated discussions, even when the “solution” may be glaringly obvious ASM Plus mediators and facilitators will never “advise” or tell their clients what to do. However, by a process of asking the right questions, helping parties to identify and agree the salient facts, encouraging them to be proactive and importantly to look at matters objectively, practical workable solutions are usually found. Simple but nonetheless very important points are taken up rather than being dismissed out of hand and inheritance, family or commercial disputes that would either have had to go all the way to full and very costly court hearings or may never have been resolved at all will be satisfactorily disposed of in a short space of time and at little cost. Dishonest rice merchants and over thinkers beware!

[1] From the annals of the celebrated cookery writer, Jack Santa Maria.

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