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  • Darren Gold

The Story of Ferdinand

Whenever someone is having a baby at my company, we each pick out a favorite children’s book and send it to them. It’s a wonderful tradition. Each time, I choose the same book – The Story of Ferdinand. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, it is the story of a young bull named Ferdinand. Bigger than the rest of the young bulls, Ferdinand eschews the rough play engaged in by the other calves, preferring instead to smell flowers sitting under a cork tree. One day, a group of men arrive to choose a bull for the upcoming bullfight in Madrid. With no interest in being selected, Ferdinand chooses to sit down and does so without knowing that he is about to sit on a bee and gets stung as a result. Ferdinand uncharacteristically runs around snorting and huffing, causing the men to mistake the behavior for the kind of aggression perfectly suited for the bullfight. They haul him off to the bullfight where he enters the ring and proceeds to sit down to smell the flowers thrown by the audience into the ring, enraging the matador and the audience. He is returned to the pasture and lives the rest of his life under the tree smelling the flowers.

The Story of Ferdinand was my favorite book to read to my three children. And it has been my obvious and only choice for the book-giving ritual at my company. Until recently, I had never stopped to understand why I had such affection for the book. There are multiple ways to interpret the story, and thus numerous reasons for liking it. For me, Ferdinand is a story of the power of non-conformity. The willingness to be who you are no matter how unpopular that may be. More importantly, it is a stand for peace and love. It’s no coincidence that the book was written in 1936, just before the outbreak of civil war in Spain and the beginning of World War II. It was banned by Franco in Spain and purged by Hitler in Germany. It is also a leadership book. Great leaders have the courage to challenge conventional wisdom and take unpopular stands. And in their stands for something better and different, they inspire people to do the same.

The Story of Ferdinand has been translated into over 60 languages and has sold millions of copies. It remains as popular today as ever. In many ways, it is a book for our times. In a world that often seems like it has lost its collective mind, the story reminds us that we each get to choose whether we join the fray or remain outside of it. Whether we contribute to anger and violence or take a stand for peace and love. Whether we frantically live our lives without reflection or slow down enough to literally smell the flowers. If you’re looking for a guidebook for living and leading in these times, you could do worse than to sit down, perhaps under a tree with some flowers, and read (or reread) that little red book. Just be careful of the summer bees.

Tuesday Tips

  1. Thank you to Maria Popova for the inspiration for this week’s blog. She has written an exquisite piece on The Story of Ferdinand and its interesting back story.

  2. Check out this great profile of Princeton mathematics professor June Hu in Quanta Magazine. Having disavowed mathematics in college, he somehow discovered his love for it through poetry, winning the Fields Medal, the highest honor in the discipline, at age 39.

  3. Nuro, a company I work with, was profiled this week in Wired. If you want to get a glimpse into the future of autonomous delivery, check out this very cool video of how they designed their third-generation robot.

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