Versions of this story can be found across the web, but I’ve yet to discover its source.
There once was a farmer who raised sheep. He took great pride in the way he cared for his animals, doing what he could to keep them healthy and safe.
It happened that his neighbour was a hunter, which wouldn’t have been a problem if not for his dogs. The animals were not very well trained and often crossed into the farmer’s field to chase his flock.
The farmer tried to address the situation without bothering his neighbour. He brought out treats for the dogs to distract them away from the sheep; they ignored him. He strengthened his fence; they broke through. He shouted and chased the dogs off his property; they returned as soon as he was out of sight.
Soon the farmer felt he had no choice but to speak to his neighbour.
The hunter listened to the farmer’s words and told him that dogs would be dogs and sheep would be sheep. He no more wanted to pen his dogs than pen his three children. Still, to keep the peace, he would see what could be done.
Unfortunately, the hunter’s efforts were half-hearted and his dogs escaped their enclosure. Not just once, but again and again. The farmer’s animals were neither healthy nor safe. Eventually, the dogs brought down one sheep, then another.
Having spoken to the hunter many times, the farmer was beside himself. The neighbours no longer talked about the weather and the happenings of their village. Instead, they argued.
Feeling that enough was enough, the farmer decided that he would take the hunter before the village council to get justice. He sat down with it’s head, a very elderly, very wise woman.
‘We can certainly hear your case,’ she told him. ‘At the same time, it sounds like you’re concerned about getting along with your neighbour in the long run. I’m not sure whether bringing him to us will help with that goal. Perhaps there’s another path?’
The farmer reiterated all the things he had tried, from treats and fencing to chasing and arguing.
The woman nodded her head in recognition. ‘Yes, you tried all those things because keeping your sheep healthy and safe is so important to you. I’m curious, though. What’s equally important to your neighbour?’
When the farmer arrived home, he chose three young lambs and brought them to the hunter. He told his neighbour that he wanted to move past their dispute and that the animals were a gift – one for each of his children. Small arms enthusiastically embraced the lambs and granted them names. Afterwards, the lambs were returned to the flock, where they received daily visits from their delighted owners.
In very little time and without another terse word passing between neighbours, the hunter’s dogs found themselves in a spacious, escape-proof pen.
The farmer smiled. His sheep were healthy and safe.