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  • Writer's pictureDavid Knell

Stone Soup

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

The other morning I learned that Audible was providing free children's stories for a while due to the pandemic. For whatever reason, the first story I played for my children was a recounting of "Stone Soup."


You know the story. I first heard it in kindergarten. It's dusk when a poor and weary traveler comes upon a small village. He's hungry and goes from house to house asking for some dinner. He is turned away at every door.


Then he sees a large, old house with a garden out front. He picks out of the dirt a smooth stone the size of his palm, rubs off the dirt, and knocks on the house door. An old lady answers. He offers to make her a special soup, the most delicious soup she's ever tasted. It's called stone soup, and he holds up the special ingredient: the smooth stone he found in her garden.


Intrigued, she lets him in. Of course, he needs other ingredients, too: carrots, cabbage, potatoes. Eager to taste this soup, she offers the vegetables in her garden to add to the soup. The resulting soup is indeed delicious, and the two dine on it together. Thus, the clever traveler gets his dinner.


Like many stories of old, it's a story about a character who overcomes physical limitations with enterprising cleverness. But I listened to this story again this morning, perhaps the first time in 30 years, I heard a new lesson. When he asked for food, no one gave him any. When he offered something of value, the food came willingly.


Whether the poor traveler is selling snake oil (the stone clearly does nothing) or the promise of something real but for which he first needs some capital to provide is a matter of perspective . . . or a matter of whether, in the end, he delivers. Clearly, the woman had all the ingredients for a soup. Couldn't she have made this soup herself? The traveler provided none of the real ingredients but still benefited from the woman's food.


That's true, but it's a materialistic perspective. There is more at play here than who adds material ingredients to the soup. It's safe to say the soup would not have been made had the traveler not initiated it. Just as a number divided by zero isn't a number, all the soup ingredients in the woman's garden, if left unpicked, uncut, and uncooked, are not a soup.


The traveler provided none of the ingredients, but without him, the old lady would not have had a delicious soup that night.


A film director doesn't (in theory) write the script, create the set, act, edit, or any other "real" work of creating the film. And yet, without a director, there would be no film. The same is probably more true of the producer.


A conductor doesn't doesn't play an instrument, doesn't sing in the choir. And yet, without someone to lead the musicians, instead of a delightful performance there would be disarray.


Kickstarter is a platform for making stone soup. Creators issue a promise of a finished product if potential backers will first provide the money to make them.


Yet another modern stone soup is how social media influencers make money. They provide content their audience finds valuable—all for free—and occasionally they ask their audience to donate money, become a patron on Patreon, buy merchandise from their store, and so on.


The important thing in all of these examples, as in the story itself, is that everyone wins. Directors and other filmmakers, conductors and musicians, get to create a wonderful piece of art. Makers get to make and sell their products, and backers receive a product they want to exist. Influencers get paid to do what they love, and their followers get content they enjoy.


In addition, the patrons in these latter two examples experience the joy of supporting people in their dreams. Having backed a couple Kickstarter campaigns and purchased products from artists I follow, I can attest that it's wonderful to both get a product I'm excited about and know that doing so is supporting an artist whose work provides me repeated delight. 


Here's an interesting exercise for the next time you watch a video or read a post by someone you enjoy following on social media: Ask yourself, "What's their soup stone? Why do I like following them? What do they provide me?" You may find that the answer is "nothing of value" and decide not to waste your time on their content anymore. You may find that there really is something about their content, their personality, their worldview that lifts you, edifies you, or genuinely entertains you. If so, what ingredients can you provide to the experience to make a great soup for all involved? And most importantly . . . 


What soup stone do you have to offer the world? 


Thanks for reading.

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