Outcomes Offered

■ Learning from others

■ Knowing that problems can have solutions if we broaden our thinking

■ Working cooperatively in relationships

■ Valuing relationships

One day a cowboy was riding along on his horse when he met three brothers who were arguing. "Why are you fighting?" he asked.

The eldest brother said, "Our father was a rancher. When he died, he left his horses to us three sons. His will was clear. I am to get half of the horses. My second brother here is to get one-third, and my youngest brother gets one-ninth. The problem is, our father left us seventeen horses."

If you know a little about math, you will see the brothers' task was impossible. Seventeen cannot be divided into a half, a third, and a ninth.

"We have tried every mathematical approach we can think of" the eldest explained to the cowboy. "We have even thought of killing one or more of the horses and cutting it up to make sure we get our rightful proportions. However, our father's will was clear on that, too: The horses were not to be killed." The other brothers nodded. A dead horse's leg or tail wasn't much use to them. This was why they argued.

Half of seventeen was eight and a half, so the eldest suggested he take nine. The younger two objected because it would mean they got less. He should take eight, they suggested, but he didn't want to take less, either. The argument raged, tempers flared, and the brothers got really angry at each other. No one was willing to comprise.

"I see your problem," said the stranger. "Your father has set you a difficult challenge, however I think I see a solution."

He led his own horse across to the corral that contained the seventeen left by the young men's father. He pushed the gate open, let his own enter, then closed the gate again. Eighteen horses stood in the enclosure.

"Now," he said to the elder, "you take your portion of one-half." How many did he get? Yes, the brother counted out nine horses that he delightedly claimed for himself. Thanks to the stranger, he got his rightful share.

Turning to the second brother the cowboy said, "Now you take your portion of one-third." How many was this? That's right, the brother happily led out six horses. To the third brother the stranger said, "Now it is your turn. Take your one-ninth." Which was how many? Yes, the last brother took his two horses, leaving behind the saddled horse of the stranger.

"Your father has left you more than horses," said the cowboy. "In setting you this challenge, what else do you think that he has given you?"

"I think," said the first brother. "That he was trying to teach us that every problem has its solution. No matter how difficult it seems, to find an answer we might have to look at it differently."

The second brother added, "I think it is more than that. Since we were little kids we have always been fighting and arguing. Perhaps he wanted us to see that working together gave us an opportunity for happiness. While greed and selfishness separated us, no one was happy."

"I believe," said the third, "he was possibly teaching us even more. He was saying that no matter how much each of us thinks we are right, we may not have the answer. That sometimes we need to look outside ofourselves. Sometimes somebody else can offer us a helpful idea for solving a problem." The cowboy just smiled as he mounted his horse, cocked his hat, and prepared to ride on.

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