17) On Trying to Please Everyone

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey from Aesop’s Fables

     A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market.  As they were walking along by the donkey’s side, a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?”  So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way.  But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.  ” So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself.  But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other:  “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”  Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up and set him on the donkey with him.  By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.  The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.  The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey with you and your hulking son?”  The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do.  They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.  They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole.  In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and because his fore-feet were tied together he was drowned.  “That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:  “Please all, and you will please none.”


From John Ploughman’s Pictures: More Plain of His Plain Talk for Plain People Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1880:

     …He who will not go to bed until he pleases everybody will have to sit up a great many nights.  Many men and women, will mean many minds and many whims, and so if we please one we are sure to set another grumbling.  We had better wait till they are all of one mind before we mind them, or we shall be like the man who tried to hunt many hares all at once and caught none.  Besides, the fancies of men alter, and folly is never long pleased with the same thing, but changes its palate, and grows sick of what it once doted on.  Good Nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it.  ‘He that all men would please, shall never find ease.’  To live upon the praises of others is to feed on the air, for what is praise but the breath of men’s nostrils?  That’s poor stuff to make dinner of.  Change for the better as often as you like, but make sure it is better before you change.  There is nothing more insane than to try and please a thousand masters at once; one is quite enough.  If a man pleases God he may let the world wag its own way, and frown or flatter as it pleases.  What is there, after all, to frighten you in a fool’s grin, or in the frown of a poor mortal like yourself?  

     If it mattered at all what the world says of us, it would be some comfort that when a good man is buried people say, “He was not a bad fellow after all.”  When the man’s gone to heaven folks know their loss, and wonder why it was that they did not treat him better.  The way of pleasing men is hard, but blessed are they who please God.  He is not a free man who is afraid to think for himself, for if his thoughts are in bonds, the man is not free.  A true man does what he thinks to be right, whether the pigs grunt or the dogs howl.  Are you afraid to follow out your conscience because Tom, Jack, and Harry, or Mary and Betsy would laugh at you?  Then you are not at all like John Ploughman, who goes on his way whistling merrily, though many find fault with himself, and his plough, and his horses, and his harness, and his boots, and his coat, and his waistcoat, and his hat, and his head, and every hair on it.  John says it amuses them and doesn’t hurt him.  And you will never catch John or his boys carrying a donkey.


I Corinthians 4:1-5 — So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time, each will receive his praise from God.  (NIV)


A PRAYER FOR THE ABILITY TO SERVE WITH HUMILITY (by Martin Luther):  Dear Lord God, I thank you that you have directed me into this place of service in which I know I am able serve and please you.  I will serve here willingly, gladly comply with the requirements, and abandon myself to doing what needs to be done.  What harm is there if I am occasionally rebuked, when I am assured that this is an acceptable service to you?  You suffered so much for me, should not I gladly do and suffer something to your honor and service?  I would not rebel against being even a dog in your house, if only I may at least eat the crumbs that fall from your table.  You owe me nothing at all.  I depend on your grace and mercy.  Amen.