There was an elderly gentleman who always enjoyed an afternoon nap. Every day, at about 3pm, he sat down in his favourite wing-backed chair in front of a warm fire and let his eyes close as the room around him blurred and sleep enveloped him. He loved this pursuit and made sure to block out the time each day to relax and be calm.
Unfortunately, the man lived near a primary school and the children, upon finishing school at half past three, would run along the pavement, shouting and playing their boisterous games. This didn’t effect the sleeper, until one day, two boys found a new game.
Now, the old man lived in an old house, a Victorian town house, and it was fronted by a wrought iron fence, which ran the length of the short street. Loving the loud clickety-clack-clickety-clack noise it made, the two children ran as fast as they could along the road, with wooden sticks bouncing off each rung of the iron fence as they went - a sound which woke the old man immediately.
Day after day this happened and the old man became more and more alarmed, missing his beloved nap. He longed for the weekends when the children were away. So, one afternoon, after three weeks of being woken, he hatched upon a plan.
“Boys! Boys!” the old man called.
The boys stopped, sticks in hand, and turned to the slippered, grey-haired man standing in the doorway.
“I just wanted to say, thank you. I love the noise the sticks make as much as you do. It really brightens up my afternoon.” And with that, the old man produced two delicious chocolate bars, and passed one to each of the boys.
They looked surprised. Part of the game had been the rebelliousness of it, as they knew they probably weren’t supposed to do it. They snatched the chocolate and off they dashed, as quick as they could.
The next day, the same thing happened, but this time the boys weren’t surprised. They gave a quick, ‘Thank you,’ to the old man, and off they went with their chocolate in hand.
This happened every day for a week: the boys, the sticks, the fence, the man, the chocolate.
Until one day, when the boys reached the end of the fence, the old man was not there. No slippers could be seen, just the scratched, green paint of the old, closed door. The boys were bemused, and somewhat distressed. They looked at each other and back at the door.
One of the boys, entrepreneurial some may say, ran back to the start of the street and started the clickety-clack-clickety-clack melody once more.
When this failed to call the old man, the other knocked on the door. ‘He must be out,’ they concluded and, disappointed, decided to leave it at that for the day.
The next afternoon, upon completion of their melodic run, the boys were again left alone on the street. Feeling more brazen at this affront, the smaller of the two climbed on to the shoulders of the taller, and, holding the fence to help himself, peered in through the old man’s window.
There he was, sat in front of his fire, his lap covered with a woolen blanket, smiling to himself and staring straight at them. He gave the boy a slow wave and turned back to stare at his lovely fire.
Shocked at being seen, the boy immediately jumped down and furiously told his partner what he had witnessed. How could this be?! They had kept up their part of the bargain!
Angrily, they threw their sticks into a bush and stomped off.
The old man closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
From that day on, the old man never had to worry about being woken again.
What do you think this story says about motivation and rewards?
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