“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
- Alan Alda
If you’ve read Chicken Soup for the Soul, you may remember one of the poems in the book about the “cookie thief.” I heard it again not too long ago when Wayne Dyer read it in one of his PBS specials.
In case you haven’t read it before, here it is…
The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”
With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
How many times in our lives,
have we absolutely known
that something was a certain way,
only to discover later that
what we believed to be true … was not?
Source: Chicken Soup for the Soul, (c) 1996 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Reprinted with the permission of Health Communications, Inc., www.hcibooks.com
So here are five memorable lessons from the poem…
1) Question your assumptions – The lady in the poem simply assumed that the cookies were hers and that the “cookie thief” was rudely taking them from her.
In the book The Four Agreements, the author says that mistaken assumptions that we just take for granted are the source of much of the conflict we experience in our lives.
What are you assuming that you may need to question?
2) Give others the benefit of the doubt – Most people actually have a good reason to do the things they do, yet we often just attribute their actions to their nature (e.g., they are rude, or a jerk, or stupid). In fact, this is so common that psychologists call it the fundamental attribution error.
The lady in the poem attributed the “cookie thief’s” behavior to rudeness rather than considering the fact that the man had a good reason to take the cookies.
3) Things are not always as they appear – As the poem reminds us in its closing, even our most deeply held beliefs can be wrong. It’s up to us to keep an open mind.
4) Stressful situations reveal what’s truly inside each of us – Stressful situations, like the lady facing off against the cookie thief, tend to reveal our “true colors.” Why did the lady react this way to the cookie thief? Why did he react the opposite way?
5) We all get to choose our response – In the end, we all get to choose our response. The reaction of the cookie thief to the lady, who was the true cookie thief, is a great example.