Hundreds of years ago in a small town in Italy, a merchant found himself owing a large sum of money to the moneylender, who was old and ugly.
The moneylender had always liked the merchant’s gorgeous daughter, so he came up with a bargain. He told the merchant that he would forgo the debt if he could marry his daughter, a prospect that horrified both the merchant and his daughter.
The moneylender told the merchant and his daughter that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble in an empty bag and that the girl would have to pull one pebble out of the bag. If she picked the black pebble, she would marry the moneylender and her father’s debt would be forgiven. If she picked the white pebble, she would not need to marry him and her father’s debt would still be forgiven. Should she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown in jail.
They were standing on a path full of pebbles in the merchant’s garden, and as they spoke, the moneylender bent down to pick up two pebbles. As he did this, the sharp-eyed girl saw that he had picked two black pebbles to put in the bag, and he then asked her to reach in and pick one.
What would you have done if you were in the girl’s situation? What advice would you give her? The way I see it, she had three options:
- The girl should refuse to pickle a pebble.
- The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the moneylender as a cheat.
- The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself to save her father.
The girl reached into the bag and took out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the path of pebbles, where it immediately became lost.
“Oh how clumsy of me,” the girl said. “But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked.”
Since the remaining pebble was black, it was assumed that the girl had pickled the white pebble. The moneylender could say nothing to dispute this, as doing so would have meant admitting to his own dishonesty.
The moral to this story is that even the most complex problems have some kind of solution, you just sometimes have to think about them in a different way.