The parable of Hephzibah

Signature birds

During a recent meeting, I thought of the first rule of presentation – know your audience. It got me to thinking about an early lesson about this very principle.

I was in college with my then boyfriend, WD. He lived in a house with 5 other guys outside of Lexington Virginia. It was a ranch house that became notorious for parties and antics. The house was always full of activity – comings and goings of friends and girlfriends and the consumption of lots of beer. The crew consisted of 6 guys, a dog – Hephzibah – and a canary whose name I don’t recall. Hephzibah was terrified of the canary and each week when it was time to clean the bird’s cage, they would let the bird fly free around the house. No surprise in that – as I said, they were notorious for antics. It didn’t take very long for the bird to realize that Hephzibah recoiled in terror each time it would come within a foot of the dog. And by the end of the school year, the canary was capable of backing that poor helpless dog into a corner where it would cower until the bird’s owner would scoop it up and place it back in its cage. A parlor game of sorts that left witnesses astounded at the audacity of the bird and the foolishness of the dog.

Summer break was looming and so it came to pass, that WD was asked to care for the bird over the summer. The owner lived far away and it was impossible for him to take the canary home for break. And so it was, that the canary came to live in Southeastern Pennsylvania for that fateful summer.

My family lived a little more than a mile from WD’s house in Pennsylvania. His family had relocated to this part of the world from California during the end of my senior year in high school – his sophomore in college. It was ironic that we would find ourselves going to colleges within in an hour of each other and so he looked me up upon returning to school that fall. It was during my freshman year that we began to date. That made this our first summer together. And as the school year ended the three of us ventured north – me, WD and the canary.

Within a week of being home for Summer Break it was time to clean the canary’s cage. And so as custom would have it, the doors of the cage opened and out flew the canary to roam freely through the house. WD’s house was larger than the ranch in the hills of Virginia and one can only surmise that the canary was excited by the space and freedom and to set out on this new adventure. Unbeknownst to the canary – also living in the house was WD’s Great Dane – a huge dog with a gentle heart and a love of playing. Imagine poor canary as she tried to back the big dog into a corner and he, thinking this was a nifty yellow toy dropping from the sky, swooped down with his giant paw and all his might.

And WD, looking for the bird, finding little yellow feathers underneath that great paw.

This photo is of a little bird that sits on my desk at the office. It reminds me of my friend DC with whom I purchased it. But it also reminds me to

1. Know your audience.
2. Don’t back anyone into the corner.
3. And don’t mistake gentility and might.

All good lessons for anyone…. business or life.

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