"A Basket Of Problems"
Some years ago a group of conventioneers gathered at a ski resort to
conduct their annual meeting. It was autumn, so there was no snow and no
skiing, but the town was picturesque and the fall scenery was as pretty as
a postcard. The leaves were scarlet and the mountains surrounding the town
Hundreds of conventioneers came from every part of the country. Young
and old, rich and poor, and in all shapes and sizes. They shared common
interests, though their backgrounds and careers were quite varied.
Twenty of the conventioneers were put up at a large bed and breakfast
near the outskirts of town. A little off the beaten path and nestled on
the side of the mountain, the large Victorian house offered the perfect
view and was an ideal setting for the weary travelers. After a few days,
the guests became better acquainted, friendships developed, and a
camaraderie was felt within the group.
The new found friends seemed to particularly enjoy the light hearted
conversation that took place every evening after dinner in front of the
inn's huge stone fireplace. As the logs blazed, the fire cast a beautiful
dancing glow around the main room. Some sat in rocking chairs, others
snuggled on the large sofas, and there were those who enjoyed sitting on
the blankets and pillows on the floor. Everyone sipped their beverages and
laughed at the stories told of their day's convention activities.
But one night the stories around the fireplace took a different twist.
The conversation turned serious when Mike, a young man in his 20's,
confessed that he had just been diagnosed with cancer. While it was
treatable and he stood an excellent chance of being cured, he was
A middle aged couple, Tom and Cheryl, offered their support and
understanding. They had just been informed that their child needed a
kidney transplant. The news had been emotionally devastating to the
A woman tearfully explained how she had recently lost her husband to a
car accident. Another person told that he had just lost his job and was at
The evening turned gut wrenching as others began to describe horrible
aspects of their "normal" lives or livesof their loved ones. From
depression and drug addiction, to eating disorders and relationship
problems -- no one seemed immune from some sort of hardship.
Finally, an elderly gentleman -- a man who was at the convention by
himself and only known to the group as Mr. Hayes, interjected himself into
Mr. Hayes had a distinguished look about him, and while no one knew
exactly where he came from, he spoke with a gentle voice that engendered
confidence and assuredness. During the past days, he had smiled and
laughed, evidently enjoying the company, but he had not said very much.
People just looked at him and thought he was a "nice old man."
After listening to everyone's concerns and problems, Mr. Hayes looked
over at the hostess and asked her if she could get a paper and pen for
everyone in the room. She returned in a minute, complying with the unusual
"Do me a favor," Mr. Hayes asked. "We're going to try something and I
need your cooperation. On the small piece of paper please write down the 3
biggest problems you are facing in your personal life right now. Don't
sign your name. We'll keep it confidential."
The group began to ponder and found the experiment fascinating, not
knowing what was to follow.
After everyone was done writing down their problems, Mr. Hayes asked
everyone to fold their paper and place it in a small basket that was placed
in front of the fireplace. There were curious looks throughout the room,
but again, everyone cooperated, wondering what would happen next.
Mr. Hayes shook the basket and held it above everyone's head as he
walked around the room and asked each person to pick a paper from the
basket. After he was done, he sat back down and looked around the room.
"Friends, open the paper and just read to yourself the problems that
you chose," Mr. Hayes explained. "And please, be as honest as you can."
Then, Mr. Hayes glanced at the woman sitting on his left and asked,
"Lisa, would you like to trade your problems that you wrote down with those
that you chose from the basket?"
"No," Lisa said.
Next, Mr. Hayes asked the man sitting next to Lisa the same question.
"Would you like to trade the problems you wrote down for those that you
chose from the basket?"
Again the reply was "No."
Mr. Hayes went around the entire room. Everyone had a chance to respond.
Remarkably, theanswers were all the same -- no, no, no, no, no...
Comments ranged from "I can deal with my own problems, but I can't deal
with what I chose out of the basket," to "Wow - these make my problems look
like nothing. Forget this."
Mr. Hayes settled back in his cushioned rocking chair while the fire
crackled in the background.
He asked, "Do your problems seem so difficult now when you see what
others must endure? Most of you wish you were in someone else's shoes, and
yet, when you get a chance to trade your problems for theirs, none of you
"Don't you see? Tonight you've learned, by your own admissions, that
despite the hardships you face, and despite the worries that grind away at
you and cause you to lose sleep at night -- despite all that -- you've come
to appreciate and understand the simple fact that the problems you face are
nothing compared to what others must deal with. In light of everyone
else's problems, your own problems seem manageable. If nothing else,
that's something to be grateful for.
"Sure, we like to complain. It's our nature and it's also therapeutic
to express ourselves and get our frustrations off our chests. There is
nothing wrong with that, and in fact, it can be a healthy thing to do. It
helps us sort things out. And heaven knows, we can always find something
to complain about."
The group found themselves mesmerized with Mr. Hayes' comments, with
several people shaking their heads in agreement, as if something amazing
has just dawned on them.
"But friends," he said, "the burdens that have been placed upon us are
there for a reason. Because without our problems, we would not search for
answers. And if we led our lives without searching for answers, we would
never become better, or stronger, or more understanding. Sometimes it
takes a serious problem to wake us up to what's really important in life.
As an example, you'll find that many of the answers you're looking for can
be found by helping others facing similar problems, and that act of service
is what's really important.
"You see, the key to your enrichment, to your happiness and peace, is
to take the problems you have and look at them as a chance to find an
answer. Learn your lessons well, and then to take those lessons and
answers and use them to become a better person -- for yourself and for
others. I'm not saying you have to like the challenges you face. No one
does. But you can look at those challenges as an opportunity to do some
"Now with that in mind, remember this... Some people let the world
and the problems they face dictate what they think and how they live their
lives. And yes, some people just love to wallow in misery. But if the
truth be known, it should and can be the opposite. You have the power
within you to change your world and put your problems behind you as you
"Ironically, the power to do that comes from the very things you see
as problems and setbacks. That's what most people don't understand. For
every setback you experience there is an equal or greater blessing that
accompanies it. You may not realize this, but your struggles are allowing
you become a better person each and every day. You just have to open your
eyes and see it.
"The blessings that come from your struggles are sometimes hidden and
many times you have to look long and hard. But by finding them in due
course, and by counting those blessings, you will discover a secret of the
ages, an undeniable truth, which seems to have escaped most of humanity.
"That secret is very simple: The more you count your blessings, the
more blessings are bestowed upon you. If you don't believe me, just try it
and see what happens."
The group was spellbound, just staring at Mr. Hayes, reflecting upon
his words, his sincerity and conviction. His comforting knowledge seemed
to vanquish the stresses and worries which had infected the earlier
Mr. Hayes took his last sip of hot chocolate and excused himself to
retire to his room. Those present continued to discuss what they had
learned, and by the end of the evening, all had concurred that Mr. Hayes
had hit on something. Each person was able to discuss a problem they had
which could be turned into a blessing.
The young man who was diagnosed with cancer was determined to use his
experience to educate others on the importance of early detection. The
couple with a son who needed a kidney transplant dedicated themselves to
join the campaign to encourage others to sign donor cards. The woman who
had lost her husband decided to carry on his memory by volunteering to pick
up where her husband had left off in his community work. The man who had
lost his job, told himself that he would use this opportunity to do what he
had always wanted to do -- write a book that he had been thinking about for
Rather than dwelling on their problems, everyone had learned to use
their problems as a stepping stone toward bettering themselves and helping
others. Rather than getting wrapped up in self-pity, the experience of
confronting their problems and seeking answers proved to be a valuable
lesson indeed. Someone commented, "Now I finally realize what looking at
the glass as half full means."
The next morning at breakfast, the hostess reported to the group that
Mr. Hayes' room was empty and that he must have left very early.
During subsequent conventions, the friends often reminisced about
their gathering at the secluded mountain resort and of their fond memories
of the fireplace conversations and the time their problems ended up in a
Interestingly, not a single person had seen or heard of Mr. Hayes'
whereabouts since that time.
Lee Simonson, Publisher, Copyright 1998