Pebbles

For a while now I have been deliberating what I should write about for my first blog post. Recently I came across a wonderful tale that I felt was suitable.

Once upon a time, in a small village in China there was a farmer who owed a large sum of money to be repaid to a very heartless and ugly old man. At the time, if the money was not repaid the law stated the farmer would have to go to debtor's jail. After a terrible farming season, the father did not have the funds to pay his debt.

The farmer had a very pretty daughter that the old lender was keen on. The lender proposed a deal whereby he would cancel the debt if he could marry the farmer's daughter. Both the farmer and his daughter were repulsed by the proposition. The old lender noticed their reaction, and suggested chance should determine the outcome of his proposition. He told them he would put two pebbles, one black and one white, in an empty money bag. The daughter would then pick one without looking.

  • If the daughter picks a black one, she must marry the old man and her father's debt will be cancelled.
  • If the daughter picks the white pebble, she does not have to marry the old man and her father's debt will still be cancelled.
  • If the daughter refuses to pick a pebble, her father will go to debtor's prison.

The discussion was taking place on the road in front of the farmer's house and the road was paved with pebbles. While speaking, the old man leaned forward and picked up two pebbles. The daughter who had a sharp eye noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them in the money bag but she remained silent.

Imagine for an instant that you were in her position. How would you react in this life altering situation? There are 3 possible outcomes:

  1. The daughter refuses to pick a pebble and the father goes to jail.
  2. The daughter picks out both pebbles revealing the old lender cheated. Embarrassing a powerful man who may seek revenge.
  3. The daughter picks out a black pebble and sacrifices herself by marrying the old man and saves her father from imprisonment.

She plunged her hand in the bag, picked a pebble and clumsily dropped it on the ground. It mixed with the other pebbles on the ground before it could be determined whether it was black or white. The daughter apologized for her clumsiness which she attributed to her nerves. She then suggested that by looking at the pebble remaining in the bag we will be able to determine the color of the first pebble.

Since the second pebble was black, the first one had to have been white. The old lender did not dare admit he had cheated.

The young woman transformed a seemingly impossible situation into a favourable ending. A solution exists for most problems, we just need to think.