Say what you mean
Mean what you say
If you were an elephant, would you agree to sit on a bird's egg to help out the mother bird? What a ridiculous idea that is. Yet, it is exactly what happens in Dr Seuss's storybook, Horton hatches the egg. Horton the Elephant sits on the egg not just for a day or two. He sits for nearly a year. Horton is probably the best example possible of someone who means every word of what he says.

In the story, a very lazy bird named Mayzie is fed up of sitting on her egg, waiting for her nestling to hatch. She asks Horton to take over while she goes on a short break. Horton is reluctant. Mayzie pleads. He gives in. To assure her, the kind elephant says, "I'll sit on your egg and I'll try not to break it. I'll stay and be faithful. I mean what I say."

Horton, the faithful
What follows is an absurd tale of a huge elephant perched precariously atop the bird's nest on a little tree. Horton sits on that egg through rain, sleet and snow. Other animals laugh and jeer at him. Hunters capture him, ship him off to a faraway place, and sell him to a circus. Through it all, Horton never leaves the nest. There is a lot of humour in the telling of this story. But, that doesn't stop us from seeing how very sincere and kind Horton is.

Whenever he feels like giving up, he reminds himself, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one hundred per cent!"

Our dear Horton has no idea that, unlike him, Mayzie neither said what she meant nor meant what she said.

In fact, Mayzie is a good-for-nothing liar! She flies off happily and forgets all about her egg. Mayzie had said to Horton,"I won't be gone long, sir. I give you my word. I'll hurry right back. Why, I'll never be missed." Had she been one-hundred-percent honest, Mayzie would have said, "I'll be gone forever, sir. I give you my word. I won't hurry back. Why, I'll never return."

After 51 long weeks, Mayzie happens to fly by just as the egg begins to crack open. Now that Horton has done all the hard work, Mayzie demands to have her egg back. Horton sadly steps aside. But, to his delight, instead of a baby bird, a little elephant with wings hatches out of the egg. Horton is rewarded for being sincere and faithful.

The most obvious moral of Horton's story rings out loud and clear: it is good to speak sincerely and carry out your promises faithfully. However, was that really the sum total of what Dr Seuss meant to say when he wrote and illustrated this classic tale? Perhaps, it wasn't. Dr Seuss often used nonsensical stories with whacky characters to convey deep thoughts about realworld issues. It is possible that he might have deliberately brought two extreme personalities - Mayzie and Horton - together so that you and I might think hard about similar individuals in our lives.

Mayzie, the free rider
Mayzie is lazy. Mayzie is irresponsible. Mayzie is a free rider: when there is work to do, she tricks Horton into doing every bit of it.

Mayzie is like those students who don't do their share of work for class projects, miss all the group meetings, and then pretend they did it all when your group presents the finished product. When someone like that is in your group or asks you for a favour, remind yourself of Horton's plight before you decide what to say.

Horton's choices
Horton did have choices: he could have said no, maybe or a conditional yes. Even after he had said yes, he could have changed his mind. And, he could have responded in any of these ways and still spoken with honesty and sincerity.

He could say no. Horton's first response was to disagree. That would have been a sensible reply. It is a pity Horton gave in to Mayzie's pleas. Maybe, she was simply trying her luck. If Horton had said no, she might have done what she should have and sat dutifully on her egg until it hatched.

He could say maybe. Horton could reply, "Mayzie, I need to think about it first. I'll give you an answer tomorrow." Then, he could ask the other forest animals for advice. They might even volunteer to help, perhaps with an egg-sitting roster for taking turns.

He could say yes with conditions. When Horton agreed, he should have added a couple of conditions. For example, he could say, "Yes, I will help you, Mayzie, on two conditions. I will sit on your egg for two hours a day until it hatches. You must always return punctually to resume egg duty after each break." Notice that his conditions would be kind and fair to both Mayzie and himself.

He could change his mind later. As soon as he realised that Mayzie had tricked him, it would have been all right to quit the nest and get back to his normal life. Horton could have others for help or ideas to make sure that the egg was still cared for.

These are real options for you as well when someone asks you for a favour. A big part of meaning what you say is being able to then carry it out properly. As Horton learnt the hard way, it is good to think carefully and get good advice before replying. Then, go ahead to say what you mean and mean what you say.


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