Newspaper Column #11: Why do some problems defy, no, NOT change? – Part III

As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on Sunday Jan 13, 2013 edition.

Change Happens at the Speed of Thinking about the Whole rather than of Our Part

What causes change to be real?  Understanding it with a story: “The Healing Poison”

Hope all of you had fabulous New Year festivities with family loved ones!  And of course, wishing all of you a bright and promising year in 2013!

Just before Christmas, this column began running the story of the uncle, the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law.  Over the holidays, I had many of you asking how does the story end.  I am sure you have figured how it ends!

It was meant to illustrate how we turn around and solve persistent issues.  These are issues that resist efforts to change.   In short, for any causality cycle that is vicious, are they unemployment or greening the country or HIV or crime.

Well, here’s a recap of the beginning of that story.

The Story

Both daughter-in-law (DIL) and mother-in-law (MIL) started their relationship with each other really well.  As we all do.  Except over time, they find themselves in an increasingly difficult relationship!  That happens too.

In frustration, the DIL shares her problem with her favorite uncle.  She now believes if she gets rid of MIL, she would have got rid of the problem.  She has come to her uncle to seek for help on how to get rid of her MIL.

The uncle advises her, giving her first a small bottle with some liquid inside, that she drops two drops of it in a hot cup of milk and present the cup of milk to her MIL.  She must make sure that MIL drinks one cup for every night for the next six months.

And when she hands the cup of milk to her MIL, she must do so, with a smile.  He assured her that by the end of six months, the MIL will be gone.

So, what do you think happened next?

Well, as difficult as it was now to smile at her MIL, the DIL had been so bent on getting rid of the problem; she decides to put the plan to action right away.

That night, just before her MIL approached her bed-time, she carefully boiled a cup of milk on the stove, dropped the two drops of the liquid her uncle gave her and she proceeded to her MIL’s room.

On the way, she spots a mirror, preens into it and tests her smile in the reflection.  Happy with what she saw, she then knocks on the door and steps into her MIL’s room.  With a smile.  Just as the uncle prescribed it!

She then says, “MIL, I have prepared a hot cup of milk for you.  I know how tired you must be after a hard day at work for all of us.  Please drink it.

Being her first night at this, she left the cup of milk next to the MIL’s bedside and quickly walked out of the room.  Except, she was not sure, if the MIL actually drank it.  She could not sleep the whole night.

The next day, she made her way back to her MIL’s room.  To check.  True enough.  The MIL had drunk the milk.

MIL had been tired and so she actually welcomed the drink.  When she drank she had a restful sleep.

Smiling quietly, the DIL thinks, “Good one night down, six more months to go!”  And so, the DIL resolves to make this a nightly ritual with her MIL for the next six months.

So, what do you think happened next?

Well, let’s switch the story over to MIL.  What does she see?  She sees her DIL present the cup of milk with a smile.  And when she drinks it, she finds her sleep improves and she now sleeps like a baby.  When she gets up in the morning, she is refreshed.

Over time, as her body rejuvenates, she finds herself completing the daily chores in a jiffy and even finds time to spend with her two grandchildren. In the past, she would feel tired to do so, but these days she enjoys their time together.

A few weeks later, as her moods begin to lift, she decides to gather a group of her close friends to dabble in her favourite past time – a round of cards.  And because she sleeps better, she finds herself concentrating better on the game and soon learns to win better with each try.

Since they play for the money, after just a few weeks, she was learning to bring home a tidy sum of money.   A few months on, she was actually, bringing in 500 pula each time!  She was overjoyed.  This was at month No. 2.

One afternoon, as she sipped her tea on the veranda, she began to realize that life indeed seems to feel different.  She is energized these days and she is now enjoying her time with family and friends and she wondered, what caused it.

She then realized things had begun to change, from the time her DIL started giving her the cup of milk.  She felt grateful for the action.  And then, there is something about when our attitudes go up by themselves, our willingness to return that favour on our volition (choice), goes up too.

The next day, she decides she should return the favour to DIL.  So that evening, when the DIL returns home, tired and hungry from work, she spots a hot piping supper on the table.  She could not believe her eyes!

The MIL comes out of the kitchen and says to her, “I have prepared this meal for you.  Do have it.”  The MIL then pops back into the kitchen.  Out of gratitude, the DIL sits down at the table, to have the meal.  When the MIL comes out a few minutes later, she notices that the DIL has accepted the meal.  She feels happy, and decides she will continue to make the meal for her DIL.

So, what do you think happened next?

Well, the DIL finds she does not need to make supper, she decides to use that time to help her children with their schoolworks.  And because the mother has time to inspire their learning, the children find it easier to focus in the classroom, and soon find their grades improve.

When the grades began to grow, the mother finds herself better able to focus at the workplace.  With improved focus, she finds herself diligent not just completing but also leading her work.  When the boss notices the change in her, he is pleased and says to her, “Keep that up, and you will be promoted”.  This was now month No. 4.

The DIL could not believe her ears!  The boss had always been on her back, but these days, he is talking about her promotion!  What happened?  Her relations in the family and at work are improving and she has never been happier.  What caused it, she wonders.

She then realizes that things began to change, when her MIL began to prepare her supper.  She felt grateful for the action.  And then, there is something about when our attitudes go up by themselves, our willingness to return that favour on our volition (choice), goes up too.

The next day, DIL decides, she should return that favour to MIL.  MIL is already out of the house, playing cards with her friends.  When she returns, with now 900 pula in her pockets and she crosses the threshold into the house, a gasp escapes her lips.  She notices a very clean and tidy house!  DIL has cleaned the whole house and she is stunned by its beauty.  She says to herself, “What a great DIL  I have!”

As she moves around admiring the newly spanked home, she begins to wonder to herself, “Why are we still quarrelling?”

And then she decides (herself), she is going to change things once and for all.

She quickly goes to the kitchen, boils two cups of tea and proceeds to look for her DIL.  When she finds her, she sits down with her, and with a smile she asks, “Shall we call it truce?”

The DIL was delighted, of course!  ….

What do you think happened next?  Have things changed?  For good?

This concept of managing change is new to most of us.  We could escape ourselves by miring in addictions or resign to stay in depressions, but there is another way.   And it can start with anyone or anywhere.

As we learn to see and turn the cycle around, the cycle takes over and helps to create new experiences that are felt by its participants.  This gives birth to new attitudes from within the participants and therefore these lead to new actions by the participants themselves.

Since it is led by experiences that are real for them rather than suggested or set for them, the change will not revert.

Otherwise, nothing would have changed, would it?

Do you remember how it all started?  Question is, what caused the change?  What caused the circle to turn around?

This will make a great supper discussion with your own family, would it not?  That will be the subject of discussion in Part IV of this instalment.

Psst …. Did you ask you want to know what came of the liquid in the bottle?  That’s coming next week!  Smile.

Wishing you a great week ahead of discovery and learning.

Ms Sheila Damodaran, originally from Singapore, is an international Strategy Development Consultant focussed on assisting national commissions tasked with strategy development.  She welcomes comments at  For upcoming programmes, refer to

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