This is the way to live your life – and sell onions

A coaching client recently gave me a copy of Radical Hospitality – Benedict’s Way of Love by Daniel Homan, Lonni Collins Pratt.

Here’s a little story from that book that got my attention:

We have also lost our souls in the marketplace, in the bickering, the negotiating. Must we position ourselves as productive winners all the time?  Go with me to a corner of the sprawling market in Mexico City where an old Indian man named Potalamo is selling onions.  Twenty strings of onions lay in front of him.  A guy from Denver walks up and asks, “How much for a string of onions?

“Ten cents,” replies Potalamo.

Havana, Cuba-November 10, 2015. Busy residential street of Centro Havana. Old, rundown residential buildings, remembering better times from 50 years ago. Street life in full effect: Couple of corner street vendors standing next to produce cart, talking to the tourist photographer, giving him directions. Sitting next to them, on the steps man sleeping. People walking in the background. Facades are in bad shape due to long time neglect and poverty.

“How much for two strings?”

Potolamo fixes his eyes on him and says, “Twenty cents.”

“What about three?”

“Thirty cents.”

“Not much of a reduction for quantity.  Would you take twenty-five cents for three?”


“Well, how much for all of it, the whole twenty strings?”

“I will not sell you the whole twenty strings.”

“Why not?” asks the American.  “Aren’t you here to sell onions?”

“No,” replies Potalamo,

“I am here to live my life.  I love this market.  I love the crowds.  I love the sunlight and smell.  I love the children.  I love to  have my friends come by and talk about their babies and their crops. 

That is my life and for that reason I sit here with my twenty strings of onions.  

If I sell all my onions to one customer, then my day is over and I have lost my life that I love – and that I will not do.”

Wow – I stopped in my tracks upon reading that.  It’s so easy to become focused on commerce and productivity – counting sales in the course launch, clients enrolled, books sold, hours logged and dollars generated – that we overshadow the value of everyday relationships and community.  Look back on your week.  Were you selling onions or living the life you love? 

Did I take time to talk to the mom struggling with her kids in the grocery store or the UPS driver upset about having to work late?   Or was I so focused on my next speech to inspire my listeners that I missed these real life opportunities to share my message?  Do I greet each morning with a prayer of gratitude and a time of silence – or by grabbing my to-do list and a frantic scan of my iPhone? 

The journey we’re on is the value itself – not some distant destination.

One of my favorite quotations of all time is this:  The road is better than the inn.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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