■ Acceptance of differences

When I was trekking in a tiny little country called Bhutan, in the Himalayas—the world's highest mountains—I heard an interesting story that children there hear from the time parents first start to tell them stories. It is called the story of the Four Faithful Friends and tells a tale of a pheasant, a rabbit, a monkey, and an elephant. It goes something like this.

One day the pheasant, a very beautiful bird with long, colorful feathers, found a seed and decided to plant it. As the pheasant was scratching at the ground to dig a hole for the seed, a white, long-eared rabbit came hopping by and asked, "Is there anything I can do to help you, my friend?"

"That is a nice offer," answered the beautiful pheasant. "When I plant this seed, would you be kind enough to water it?"

"Certainly," said the long-eared rabbit. He took to his task with honor and pride, ensuring it received plenty of water, especially throughout the dry season when he had to haul the water from a nearby river.

A brown-furred monkey, spotting the pheasant and rabbit working away so industriously, swung down from his tree and asked, "What are you doing, my friends? Can I help you?"

"We are planting this seed," said the beautiful pheasant.

"And watering it," added the long-eared rabbit, proudly.

"Perhaps I could fertilize it and weed it," offered the brown-furred monkey.

While all three were helping to tend to the seed in their own ways, a wrinkly-skinned elephant swayed by. "Can I help you guys, too?" asked the elephant. "If I stand guard to protect it, no one will dare eat or damage it while it is growing."

Together all four friends nurtured the seed, watching it break through the surface of the earth as a tiny shoot, grow into a young sapling, and mature into a tall, strong tree. Before long, it seemed, the tree's branches were laden with an abundant crop of fruit.

Just as the four friends worked together in planting and caring for the tree, so they now worked together to help harvest the fruit.

"Here," said the wrinkly-skinned elephant to the brown-furred monkey, "climb up on my back so that you can reach closer to the tree." Having got in position on top of the elephant, the monkey extended a hand to the long-eared rabbit.

"Hop up on my shoulders. That way we will get a little closer," he said to the rabbit.

Finally the pheasant took its position on the back of the rabbit. By forming this ladder of friends, they were able to reach the fruit and pluck enough to feed them all.

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