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The Parable of the Rattlesnake

By Cody Branch
Director, Student Success

Cody Branch's Grandpa

My paternal grandparents owned and operated a century-old family farm and cattle ranch in Southern Idaho. Grandpa was a cattleman and horseman—a real life, out of the movies cowboy. He looked and talked like he walked right off the set of a John Wayne western. As a young boy, I idolized him (somewhat to my mother’s dismay). I adored my grandparents and spent as much time as possible with them on the ranch each summer.

While on the ranch, it was not uncommon to come across rattle and blow snakes. Some would make their way into grandma’s yard and garden. Whenever a snake was spotted, we would call grandpa, who would come running with his shovel. Grandpa collected the rattles from the rattlers that met the fate of the end of his shovel.

One evening, grandma went with my cousin and me on a bike ride. Not far from my grandparents’ home we spotted a large rattlesnake laying very still on the road’s shoulder. We approached cautiously while maintaining a safe distance to get a better look. We watched the snake for some time. It didn’t move. It appeared lifeless. We tossed rocks at it. Still, it didn’t move. After tossing dozens of rocks without any response from the snake, we came to the conclusion that it was dead.

We returned to the house and informed grandpa that there was a dead rattler just down the road and asked him to get the rattle for us. Grandpa jumped in his pickup, and we led him on our bikes to where the snake lay defunct. After making a few of his own observations, grandpa determined that, in fact, the snake was dead. He approached the snake and bent over to pick it up to harvest its rattle. Just then, the snake that was presumed dead awoke and began striking violently.

In our bravery, my cousin and I leapt into the back of grandpa’s pickup, leaving grandpa to fend for himself. Fortunately, the first blow of the snake met grandpa’s thick leather boot, preventing penetration of the snake’s venomous fangs. He was then somehow able to pin the snake’s head, preventing it from striking him further. My cousin and I found a small 1”x 2” board in the back of grandpa’s truck and tossed it to him. In a fierce battle that probably only lasted seconds but seemed like several minutes, grandpa was able to overcome the serpent with the weapon we had so courageously provided him.

Grandpa collected the rattles from the defeated snake and we made our way home—my cousin and I being chastised all the way. I remember grandpa saying, “Next time you better be sure the snake is dead.” Even though my cousin and I were receiving the lecture, I think grandpa was probably giving the same lecture to himself.

To this day, I am not sure how my grandpa made it out of that experience without being bitten; however, in my young mind, this incident further convinced me of grandpa’s heroic capabilities and deepened my boyhood admiration for him.

I have reflected on this experience many times over the years and have drawn many life lessons from the incident. One such lesson, and perhaps the most powerful, is the importance of truth and fact in building our perceptions about the world around us and how we approach life.

Our perceptions become our reality—even if they are not based on truth or fact—and shape how we interact with the world. The perception that my grandma, cousin and I adopted, based on our experience with the motionless snake, was that it was dead. We thought we had done our due diligence in coming to that conclusion. We passed our perception on to grandpa, who, for the most part, took our word for it. In the end, our perception was very flawed, and the actions that were pursued as a result of our incorrect perception could have had very serious consequences. So it is with many decisions we make in life—personal, professional or otherwise. If our perceptions are erroneously conceived, our approach to various situations will also be flawed.

This concept is vital to consider in all aspects of life but especially as we seek to solve problems and build process efficiencies in the work place. I have seen many times where significant amounts of time, money and other resources have been devoted to solving a perceived problem, only to discover in the end that the original perception of the issue to which a solution was designed was incorrectly identified. Thus, the developed solution had little to no effect because it didn’t address the true issue. Before we jump into solving a problem, we need to be sure that we correctly understand what the true problem is. We need to do our due diligence in assessment and analysis—we need to do more than throw a few rocks.

As we seek to improve ourselves and our work, it is vital that we see things as they truly are so that we can make the right plans and get the right results.

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