A long time ago, in a land far away, an extremely successful merchant fretted over the future of his son.
“He’s a good kid,” he told his wife, “but there is something not right about him.”
She really didn’t see a problem.
“He is handsome yet humble, popular without being a snob and capable though never arrogant,” she said, “What more could you ask?”
“I don’t know,” the merchant confessed, “he is good at whatever he does – but that is just it, I don’t know what is missing.”
“Well then,” she said, “why don’t you talk to the wisest man in the world? He lives just across town.”
“That will never do,” the merchant said, “he is my competition and ours is a cut-throat business. I don’t know if I could trust him and I don’t know if our son is ready to compete with him after I retire.”
“Then the answer is obvious,” she said, “ask the second wisest man in the world. He lives close by also.”
“You mean Scruff, that filthy little beggar who pesters travelers along the road between here and there?”
“The very one,” she said.
So with son in tow, the merchant set off to consult with Scruff – who after patiently listening to a rather lengthy explanation of the dilemma, simply shrugged and said, “I haven’t a clue.”
“Can’t you do anything for him?”
“The only thing I can do,” Scruff said, “is teach him to beg.”
“Alright then,” the merchant said and with that, he spun on his heels and was gone.
“So how do I go about begging?” the kid wanted to know.
Again Scruff shrugged.
“Do I just ask travelers for money?”
“You could try that.”
So the kid did.
“Hey,” he yelled at a passer-by, “how about a few bucks?”
All he got was a rock thrown at him in response.
“You might want to lower your asking price,” Scruff advised.
“Hey mister,” the kid yelled at the next passer-by, “how about a penny?”
“A penny,” the man retorted, reaching for a rock, “your shirt cost more than I made last year.”
“You might want to lose the shirt,” Scruff suggested.
“Hey lady,” the kid yelled at the next traveler. “Can you spare a coin?”
“No,” she said, “not for a shirtless boy with a posh accent – but I will give you something.”
“What?” the kid asked.
At the end of the day, the kid told Scruff, “Begging sucks.”
“Give it time,” he said.
But time did not help. The only thing the kid became good at was dodging rocks and scrambling away from angry travelers.
Finally, the successful merchant’s son had enough. He resolved that if he could not succeed by begging, he would succeed by cheating. So one night he slipped into town and tapped a couple of his friends for spare change.
Being that he was popular and being that they were both good friends and wealthy, the change was more than sufficient for a meal and a couple of pints.
And a couple more pints.
And a couple more after closing.
As the kid stumbled back along the road to the little hovel he shared with Scruff, he chanced upon two ruffians.
“What have we got here?” one asked.
“Leave me alone, I am just a simple beggar,” the kid said.
“A simple beggar with a pocket that jingles of silver,” the other noted.
The kid had never been hit that hard in his life. Nor kicked. Nor stomped. Nor served as an object upon which the world vented itself.
He crawled back to the hovel, but Scruff showed no sympathy.
“You’re drunk, bloody and frankly I don’t want to hear you moaning all night. Go home to your father,” he told him, “I have nothing more to teach you.”
So the kid slept in a ditch until morning then staggered home, bloody, sore and a failure at the simplest profession on earth.
But as dejected as he was, his father was delighted.
“Being a merchant is a tough business. It is good to suffer a few licks.”
“Is that what you wanted?” the kid wailed, “for me to be beaten and humiliated?”
“Close,” the merchant said.
“I never thought I needed a lesson in humility.”
“No, you are a good kid,” the father confessed, “But there was something off about you and I never realized what it was until this morning.
You never failed at anything and until you have tasted failure, you can never truly enjoy success. Without suffering, you can never empathize and without empathy you may become wealthy – but you will never be rich and that is what I have always wanted for you.”
For anyone interested in the origins of Scruff: read A Cautionary Fairy Tale About Beggars, Gravel and Micro-Economics