The Lesson of the Tortoise and the Hare: Aesop Got It Wrong

Everyone knows the basic story of The Tortoise and the Hare, right? Tortoise and Hare set out to race each other, which is laughable given how fast Hare can run and how slow Tortoise is. The race begins and Hare is out-of-sight, but running alone during the race, he loses focus, stops to relax a bit and falls asleep. Meanwhile Tortoise plods on steadily towards the finish line. When Hare awakens, he dashes back onto the race course full-speed, but alas he is too late and Tortoise crosses the finish line a moment before Hare arrives on the scene. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

tortoise and the hareI used to joke that in my marriage, it is easy to see who is the Tortoise and who is the Hare. Jon is a natural procrastinator, a handyman who often abandons home improvement projects for months, if not years, at a time. My soulmate knows which post offices stay open till midnight on April 15, because he is able to pull an all-nighter to complete his tax return and still function well at work the next day. He is talented and capable of amazing bursts of productivity, yet he is maddeningly inconsistent.

I, on the other hand, pace myself.

“Shouldn’t we get started painting, if we are going to get to bed by midnight?” I ask. If going on a long vacation, I know I need to start running loads of laundry a couple days in advance, so they’ll be ready to pack. When I take a break, I like to set a timer to remind myself when I need to get back to work. By staying on task better than the Hares of the world, I generally get good results – a high GPA in school, an excellent performance rating at work – slow and steady really DOES win the race.

I’ve always been a bit too proud of being the Tortoise of our relationship. Tortoise is the winner, overcoming obstacles, namely lack of speed, to triumph. Tortoise is the character we are taught to admire.

But recently, it hit me.

The real lesson in the Tortoise and the Hare story: despite dramatically different racing styles, over the long haul, Tortoise and Hare end up at the same point at almost exactly the same time. Yes, yes, Tortoise gets there first and “wins”. But Hare is just a second behind. They are basically in the same place, in synch with each other at the end. And so too have my husband and I often found each other. He does, after all, still do very well at his job and though the progress around our house comes in fits and starts, overall, we do continue to improve the place.

The real moral of the story should be something more along the lines of, “Different strokes for different folks.” Accepting our differences is key in having successful relationships. And I don’t just mean a romantic relationship either. Most people have collaborated on a joint project with someone who has a tremendously different work style. It’s easy to feel that the other person is approaching it from the WRONG perspective, that their strategy is doomed. My advice is to give them space to go at their own pace. Keep your own focus on the finish line and how best to get there and stop judging others.

You’ll notice that Tortoise did not stop and poke Hare, as she passed him by, and deride him for being lazy, scoff that he must be ADHD or nag him to move it. If she had, I believe that neither one of them would have been winners, regardless of who crossed the finish line first. And that is the real moral of the story of The Tortoise and The Hare.

This post was contributed by Dannica Daniels, author of Make Love to Your Food, Wicked New Ways for Women to Lose Weight. Check out her Facebook page to learn more about this title and other pieces by Dannica.

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