A matter of opportunity and honesty

by Bob on Tuesday, 18 March 2008 Comments
Every day around the globe, newspapers are full of reports about sudden changes of fortune, catastrophic events, fortuitous coincidences, chance encounters that in the space of a few moments change the course of people’s lives forever. For some it is a blessing that sets them in the direction of success and reputation beyond their wildest expectations. For others it starts them down the road to sadness and misery. It is not the nature of the event that determines the outcome, but the resilience and determination and resourcefulness of the ones affected.

It doesn’t matter what people have been or what they did in the past, but what they are doing now. Where are they heading? Are they still competing? Have they remained true to their principles?

It would be nice to always have good weather, pleasant companions, circumstances that enhance and ratify what one is doing, but often we find ourselves in difficult conditions and it is necessary to create our own opportunities and to swim against the current. If we do, then our lives have purpose and our efforts are worthwhile, even if they fall short of their goal.

Here is a fable I wrote that shows how a little ingenuity turned a piece of art into a treasure.

The Counterfeit Antique

What makes an antique valuable? Perhaps it is the only surviving specimen of some ancient object or a relic of some historical significance or it belonged to someone famous or is made of precious materials. In the long run it is not what it was or what it is that determines its value but the fact that someone is willing to buy it at some outrageous price so they can boast of owning it or believe they have an investment that will go up in value so they can resell it for profit. The restoration of damaged or tarnished antiques is also a lucrative business. So is the illegal smuggling of ancient artifacts and forgery of fake antiques.

Once upon a time there was an honest artisan named Philip. He was making a good living from antiques, not by selling them or restoring them, but by making replicas of them. His reproductions were so authentic in every detail including the effects of aging that sometimes even the experts were fooled. One day he made an article that was almost perfect. It would surely fetch at least half a million dollars on the open market if it were real. But Philip was neither greedy nor dishonest. He knew that as an acknowledged product of modern technology, it was worth much less than that.

This didn’t bother Philip. But it did bother his wife. She was determined to find a way to get that half a million dollars. “There must be some way we can honestly get all that money for ourselves,” she thought. Then she had a brilliant idea. It wasn’t exactly dishonest. It just postponed the moment of honesty.

Since Philip left all business matters in the hands of his wife, he was unaware of her scheme, which he would surely have opposed, because if it didn’t succeed he would go to jail and his reputation would be ruined. His wife put the plan into action. She secretly arranged for the article to be discovered covered with dust in the attic of an old mansion that had once belonged to an eccentric millionaire who had sometimes bought rare antiques. It was hailed as one of the finds of the century. Experts were called in who had no doubts about its authenticity.

The one part of the plan the wife had had qualms about was the deception of the experts. She felt especially sorry for the one with the biggest reputation who was a close friend, so she let him in on the plan. Phillip’s artifact was put on the block for public auction by a prestigious auction firm. When the dust finally settled it was sold for $800,000.

When the gavel came down after the last bid, the art expert got up and made a shocking announcement. “I am very sorry to say that there has been a mistake. This sale was engineered to alert the public to be more cautious when buying antiques. This magnificent article here, which even had some experts fooled temporarily, is not really 2000 years old. It was made last year by Philip. See, right here hidden away in a secret place is Philip’s mark.”

The revelation caused a sensation. The expert who made the announcement was praised for his perception and honesty. Philip’s reputation as a craftsman was so enhanced that everything he had made immediately jumped in value and his future creations commanded much higher prices.

As for the antique replica in question, not only did it have the quality of craftsmanship to commend it, it was now famous as the piece that fooled the experts, so when it was subsequently auctioned not as an antique but as an authentic Philip’s, it still sold for over half a million dollars.

Philip’s wife was ecstatic. Philip had no time to rejoice. He was too busy working on the new commissions for his work that were pouring in.

There are lessons hidden here.

Unfortunately the pay for “it pays to be honest” is not always cash. Sometimes you just have to be content with the reward of a good conscience.

“Honesty is the best policy”, but like all policies, it has to be paid for. “The truth will make you free”, but not necessarily rich.

Sometimes the only way to tell the truth so people will listen is to embellish it.

“To tell nothing but the truth” is not enough if it isn’t the whole truth.

Something good turned into something better, because someone added something extra.

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