The Magic Pebbles
"Why do we have to learn
all of this dumb stuff?"
Of all the complaints and questions I have heard from my
students during my years in the classroom, this was the one most
frequently uttered. I would answer it by recounting the following
One night a group of nomads were preparing to retire for the
evening when suddenly they were surrounded by a great light. They
knew they were in the presence of a celestial being. With great
anticipation, they awaited a heavenly message of great importance
that they knew must be especially for them.
Finally, the voice spoke, "Gather as many pebbles as you
can. Put them in your saddle bags. Travel a day's journey and
tomorrow night will find you glad and it will find you sad."
After having departed, the nomads shared their
disappointment and anger with each other. They had expected the
revelation of a great universal truth that would enable them to
create wealth, health and purpose for the world. But instead they
were given a menial task that made no sense to them at all.
However, the memory of the brilliance of their visitor caused
each one to pick up a few pebbles and deposit them in their
saddle bags while voicing their displeasure.
They traveled a day's journey and that night while making
camp, they reached into their saddle bags and discovered every
pebble they had gathered had become a diamond. They were glad
they had diamonds. They were sad they had not gathered more
It was an experience I had with a student, I shall call
Alan, early in my teaching career that illustrated the truth of
that legend to me.
When Alan was in the eighth grade, he majored in "trouble"
with a minor in "suspensions." He had studied how to be a bully
and was getting his master's in "thievery."
Every day I had my students memorize a quotation from a
great thinker. As I called roll, I would begin a quotation. To be
counted present, the student would be expected to finish the
"Alice Adams - 'There is no failure except ..."
"In no longer trying.' I'm present, Mr. Schlatter."
So, by the end of the year, my young charges would have
memorized 150 great thoughts.
"Think you can, think you can't - either way you're right!"
"If you can see the obstacles, you've taken your eyes off
"A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and
the value of nothing."
And, of course, Napoleon Hill's "If you can conceive it, and
believe it, you can achieve it."
No one complained about this daily routine more than Alan -
right up to the day he was expelled and I lost touch with him for
five years. Then one day, he called. He was in a special program
at one of the neighboring colleges and had just finished parole.
He told me that after being sent to juvenile hall and
finally being shipped off to the California Youth Authority for
his antics, he had become so disgusted with himself that he had
taken a razor blade and cut his wrists.
He said, "You know what, Mr. Schlatter, as I lay there with
my life running out of my body, I suddenly remembered that dumb
quote you made me write 20 times one day. There is no failure
except in no longer trying.' Then it suddenly made sense to me.
As long as I was alive, I wasn't a failure, but if I allowed
myself to die, I would most certainly die a failure. So with my
remaining strength, I called for help and started a new life."
At the time he had heard the quotation, it was a pebble.
When he needed guidance in a moment of crisis, it had become a
diamond. And so it is to you I say, gather all the pebbles you
can, and you can count on a future filled with diamonds.
By John Wayne Schlatter
from A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul
Copyright 1995 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen