Brother and sister

“I am so very thirsty, that if I knew where there was a brook, I would go and drink…”

The Brothers Grimm

This quote represents a key aspect of The Brothers Grimm fairytale, Brother and Sister, and our need for instant gratification despite the consequences.

The fairytale tells of two children who escape their daily life of being mistreated by their wicked stepmother. They set off on a journey through a forest to find a new place to call home. In response to their escape, their stepmother puts a spell on the waterways in the forest.

After travelling for long periods, the brother and sister are thirsty. They come across a running stream, however after hearing a message coming from the water, the sister advises her brother not to take a drink. This first stream will turn whomever drinks from it into a tiger.

They continue on their journey, again with the brother stating he’s thirsty and will take a drink from the next stream. The same thing happens, with the sister hearing a message from the water. This second stream will turn whomever drinks from it into a wolf. She begs her brother not to drink from it. His response, he doesn’t care about the warnings, he’s thirsty and will take a drink from the next stream no matter what his sister tells him.

The brother and sister reach another stream, and despite his sister warning him that this stream will turn him into a deer, the brother takes a drink. Sure enough, he turns into a deer and the story continues on with the brother and sister eventually finding an abandoned home to call their own, and the sister left to forever protect the deer from hunters.

I’m not going to go into the next part of this story, as it does somewhat repeat the one significant lesson we can learn and apply in our daily lives. It’s the lesson of the consequences of gratification.

When we want something so much that we don’t listen to the warnings, our instincts, our rational thoughts, or think about the consequences, we are left with the outcomes of our decision. These outcomes often can’t easily be undone.

In this fairytale, the consequences were immediate and long term. The desperate need to quench thirst outweighed the brother’s ability to think about the immediate and longer term consequences, not just for himself but his sister. His internal monologue about satisfying his body’s need for hydration, also overruled him listening to the verbal guidance and warning his sister gave him. The sister expressed her concerns about the consequence of her brother being turned into a tiger (who would tear her to pieces), a wolf (who would eat her up) and a deer (who would run away from her), but ultimately he did not listen to her.

In today’s world, we often have a similar need for gratification. Whilst it may not be to quench our thirst, there are times when we want something and we want it immediately. The instantaneous fulfillment of that need and the feeling it gives us, can override all our rational thought. Take a credit card as a simple example it can enable our gratification, as can pay later offers, but there are consequences in the form of interest and payments. Text messages are another good example. Unless we get an immediate response to a message, we start to irrationally think about why the receiver hasn’t responded yet.

So the big lesson the fairytale Brother and Sister teaches us, is to pause for a moment and think about the consequences of our actions (short, medium and long term) when we’re wanting something so much in that single moment.

Instant gratification comes at a cost – whether it be financial, physical or emotional. And sometimes it can come at a cost to those around us who have to live with the consequences instant gratification causes us.

Would you want to have to protect a deer for the rest of its life?

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