One day, a longtime friend comes to you and says, “My friend, I am sick. I am dying. Quickly. Since I have no family, I wish to give to you personally my most treasured possession.” You are handed a golden elephant statuette of considerable size and weight.
“This elephant has seen me through the darkest days of my life; when no matter how little I had, I knew that if I did not resort to selling the elephant, then I was still a wealthy man."
Your friend soon passes into the next world and you treasure his gift with all the respect it deserves. Your children are born and raise up with respect for the golden elephant and for the spirit it was given. Some years, the family had very little and much was sold away to buy the next day’s meal. Many nights it seemed easier to sell the elephant, and have meals enough until times were better—and then the children would come in offering their toys instead. Keep the golden elephant, and you are still a wealthy man.
You find new work in a new town and make new friends. One who becomes close hears the story of the dying friend and of the golden elephant, on prominent display in a secure cabinet. “I think I’ve seen those in a trinket shop. Are you sure it’s real?” he asks without considering the effect of his question.
To sully the memory of your friend is only the first offense, your guest has also implied your own gullibility and questioned your faith that the elephant was genuine. Enraged, you chase him from your home. “Who does he think he is? What kind of fool does he take me for?” Your anger haunts you. You can’t stand to look at the elephant, the precious gift, without the pain of doubt and hate.
Those trinkets were merely the replicas of what you own, you tell yourself. Your guest was mistaken. What does it matter the shape of that quantity of gold? With such reason, you can forgive your guest, release your anger and be firm in your faith in your friend. Keep the elephant and you are a wealthy man, he said. He would not lie to you. The gift is genuine because your friend was genuine.
Years later, your son is making his home with his new bride. Life has been good to you and you can see you will be wealthy until your last days. As a wedding gift, you offer your most precious possession, the golden elephant. “Oh, thank you, Father! We will love it as you have.”
When they are alone, his bride chuckles, “You were so kind to your father, the way you accepted that piece of junk. Is he going mad?”
“No,” your son responds with patient wisdom, “If your faith that everything was going to be alright hinged on a falsehood, would you ever want to know the truth of that?”