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PAULO COELHO: The wisdom of the old


An old hunter of foxes, considered to be the best in the region, decided finally to retire. 

He gathered together his belongings and resolved to set off for the south of the country, where the climate was milder. 

However, before he could finish packing up his things, he received a visit from a young man. 

“I would like to learn your techniques,” said the newcomer. “In exchange, I will buy your shop, your hunting licence, and I will also pay you for all your secrets.” 

The old man agreed, they signed a contract and he taught the young man all the secrets of fox-hunting. 

With the money he received, he bought a beautiful house in the south, where the climate was so mild that not once during the whole winter did he have to worry about gathering wood for the fire. 

In the spring, though, he felt nostalgic for his own village and decided to go back and see his friends. 

When he arrived, he bumped into the young man who, some months before, had paid him a fortune for his secrets. 

“So,” the old hunter said, “how was the hunting season?” 

“I didn’t catch a single fox.” 

The old man was surprised and confused. 

“Didn’t you follow my advice?” 

With eyes downcast, the young man replied: “Well, to be honest, no, I didn’t. I thought your methods were out of date and I ended up discovering for myself a better way of hunting foxes.”  


The old man had worked all his life. When he retired, he bought a farm for his son to manage and decided to spend the rest of his days sitting on the verandah of the big house. 

His son worked for three years. 

Then he began to grow resentful. 

“My father doesn’t do a thing,” he said to his friends. 

“He spends all his time staring out at the garden, while I slave away in order to feed him. One day, he resolved to put an end to this unfair situation. He built a large wooden box, went over to the verandah and said: “Father, would you mind getting into this box?” 

His father obeyed. His son placed the box in the back of his truck and drove to the edge of a precipice. 

Just as he was preparing to push the box over, his heard his father say: “Son, throw me over the edge if you must, but be sure to keep the box. You’re setting an example here, and your children will doubtless need the box for you.” 


An old blackbird found a piece of bread and flew off with it. 

When they saw this, the younger birds pursued him in order to attack. 

Confronted by imminent battle, the blackbird dropped the piece of bread into the mouth of a snake, thinking to himself: “When you’re old, you see things differently. I lost a meal, it’s true, but I can always find another piece of bread tomorrow. 

“However, if I had hung on to it, I would have started a war in the skies; the winner would become the object of envy, the others would gang up on him, hatred would fill the hearts of birds and it could all go on for years. That is the wisdom of old age: knowing how to exchange immediate victories for lasting conquests.” 

Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Paulo Coelho is one of the most widely read authors in the world. His best known works include The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes and Manuscript Found in Accra.) 

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