Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein and Topher Payne

August 2021 Vol 3 Issue 8

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-August 2021!

As I prepare this issue of “Tell Your Story Newsletter,” a lengthy heatwave (with temperatures nearing 40 degrees Celcius) has finally broken and not a moment too soon! One can’t help but wish we could “bottle” the heat we’ve had since June, to release it next January or February!

In this issue, I describe a wonderful revisionary re-writing of the late Shel Silverstein’s fable, “The Giving Tree.” More specifically, the document alters the end of the tale, by providing entrepreneurial–and human–insights on the importance of healthy boundaries.

And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” I return to the perennial problem of differentiating between “immigrate” and “emigrate,” a problem patiently explained by American etymologist Bryan Garner. To use these terms correctly is especially relevant to me, as I tutor new immigrants to Canada in English as a second (or foreign) language.

These past nearly two years have been deeply trying for most of us. Recently, the drought and extensive summer heat have been devastating for farmers, gardeners and for all of us who worry about our beleaguered environment.

At such times, and with a Covid variant surging in our communities, do your spiritual leanings take you to mindful meditation, contemplation or prayer? Mine certainly have, and such beliefs can become our best resort.

May this week’s cooling trend and the passing of our last full month of summer, bring our province– one troubled corner of the planet–some lasting relief.

Storytelling Communication



ARTICLE 1: Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein
and Topher Payne
The perennial case of “immigrate” versus “emigrate”

Article One: Do you give too much (as an entrepreneur)? On keeping healthy boundaries with Shel Silverstein and Topher Payne (for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Story Time)

The American writer, poet, cartoonist, songwriter and playwright, Shel Silverstein (1930-1999), is fondly remembered for writing children’s literature. His online biography says that his books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold some 20 million copies. I still remember taking
delight in his cartoon images which I found in Greystone Heights’ (elementary school) library.

Arguably Silverstein’s best-known children’s story, “The Giving Tree” (first published in 1964), is really a parable about the importance of setting boundaries for ourselves, when we serve others. The publisher’s jacket aptly labels the book: for “all ages.” I summarize and quote the story, here:

“Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.
And every day the boy would come and . . . gather her leaves,” to play with,
He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches,
and eat apples . . . .
And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree . . . . very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.”

When the tree asks the boy to return to playing with her, the boy says he is “too big,” and that he
wants “to buy things and have fun.”
He asks the tree to give him money.

She offers him her apples to “sell . . . . Then you will have money and you will be happy.”

The boy sells the apples. But afterward he stays away a very long time, causing the tree to grow sad.

When she invites him to play again (at a third period in the boy’s life), he refuses, saying he is “too busy,” that he “wants a house to keep me warm . . . [and] I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?”

The tree asserts that she has no house, other than the forest, but offers to give the boy her branches to build his house, which he hurriedly takes. Again she says, “Then you will be happy.”

The narrator next says: “And the tree was happy.”

The boy again stayed away for a very long time. But when they meet again (a fourth period in the boy’s life), the tree is “so happy she could hardly speak.” When she invites the boy to play once again, the boy says he is “too old and sad” and that he now wants “a boat that will take me far away from here.” He asks the tree if she can give him a boat.

Giving once again, the tree tells the boy to “cut down [her] trunk” to make a boat, and “Then you can sail away and be happy,” she says.

The boy does so, leaving the tree with only a stump. The narrator says that “the tree was happy . . . but not really.”

Again after another long time, the boy (now an elderly man) comes back to the tree. The tree says she’s sorry but she has no apples, branches or trunk to give him: “I wish that I could give you something . . . but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry . . .”

But he says he wants “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.” So the tree “straightening herself up as much as she could,” invites him to “sit down and rest.”

The boy does so, and the narrator says, “And the tree was happy.”


The publisher of “The Giving Tree” summarizes this story as one of “unforgettable perception,” without specifying whose perception is at stake.

The story tells us that “as the boy grew older, he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave.”

The publisher goes on to refer to the story as “an . . . interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.” The statement implies that the tree accepts the boy’s very limited capacity to feel and share love, after she gives him everything she has—including
her life.

The parable reminds me of the Brothers Grimm fable of “The Fisherman and His Wife.” In that fable, the gender roles are reversed and the fisherman’s wife is the one who has an overweening desire (for her husband) to grasp and take (money and power) for her own benefit.

We don’t know how Silverstein interpreted the story he wrote and even if we did, that would reflect the fallacy of authorial intention. But 21st century readers like me are struck by the imbalance in “The Giving Tree” between the tree’s motherly generosity and the boy’s selfish exploitation of her.

And then . . . seemingly a world away from Silverstein’s parable, in a recent entrepreneurial workshop that I attended, the great American copywriter, Ed Gandia, shared something very special–a contemporary “alternate ending” to “The Giving Tree,” written by Topher Payne (and created for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Story Time).

The group deserves our credit, thanks and a contribution (which I’m looking into.)  Gandia referred to Payne’s revised ending to illustrate the importance of psychological boundaries for freelance creatives, including writers, of all kinds.

Payne calls his “revision” to the parable, “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries.” Beginning in the part of the story where the boy asks the tree for a house,” Payne’s boundary conscious tree sets a limit! She says: “Okay, hold up. This is already getting out of hand.

Look, I was fine with giving you the apples to help you get on your feet. They’ll grow back next season anyway. But no, I’m not giving you a house. You know, I’ve seen boys like you pull this nonsense with other trees in the forest. First it’s the apples, then branches, then the trunk, and before you know it that mighty beautiful tree is just a sad little stump. Well, look here, Boy, I love you like family, but I am not going down like that.”

Payne’s tree next confronts the “boy” about how he only visits “when he needs something,” and how inconsiderate he is of the tree’s, feelings,” and so on.
The boy responds by doing research to learn that the tree will not lose her health by hosting some nearby squirrels—a point of concern she had expressed to him. In fact, the boy, says Payne’s narrator, “loved his friend [the tree] and was concerned about her long-term health because she had taught him the importance of empathy.”

Empathy, we know as humans, and especially as entrepreneurs, requires that we maintain our own boundaries. Payne’s rewriting becomes consciously entrepreneurial, when the narrator says that the tree and the boy accepted each other’s boundaries in this way:

“The boy attended culinary school. The tree took courses online and got her certification in small business management. They did their homework together nearly every day. The boy became a pastry chef. Together, they opened a bakery selling the best apple pies anyone had ever tasted. It turned a profit in the first eighteen months, which is most uncommon.”

Payne’s narrator mentions that the boy had a son of his own, and, in time, that son also had his own family. So, “because of their friendship, the boy was successful and fulfilled, and the tree grew wider and stronger, standing tall and beautiful in the forest for many, many, many years.”

The narrator then concludes that, had the tree years earlier given the boy her trunk for a house and boat she “would have had nothing left . . . for herself [or] anyone else”: “In truth, she would have gladly given the boy her branches to build a house” and “her trunk to build a boat. She loved him that much.”

But such giving without limit would have obliterated her boundaries: she would have had no home for the squirrels, no games with the boy’s grandchildren and no successful bakery selling legendary apple pies.

Payne’s narrator closes: “Setting healthy boundaries is a very important part of giving. It assures you’ll always have something left to give.” So not only the tree was happy, but “everyone was,” and not because they gave something to another, but because they remembered first to take care of (and
responsibility for) themselves–and, it follows, for their own happiness.

Does Topher Payne’s wonderful rewriting of Silverstein’s classic fable speak to you, in your entrepreneurial or personal life? Please send me your response; I’d be delighted to hear from you.


Words, Stories, Riddles and Jokes on Writing and Editing . . .

This month: the easy-to-forget distinction between “immigrate” and “emigrate”

One of my recent pupils during my recent practicum with Nevy’s Language (Toronto) reported that the difference between “immigrate” and “emigrate” was “hard to remember!” And I myself sometimes forget it.

So from Bryan Garner’s Modern American Usage, here is a refresher:
To “Immigrate” means to migrate into or enter (a country). This verb considers the movement from the perspective of the destination.

To “Emigrate” means to migrate away from or exit (a country). This verb considers the movement from the perspective of the departure point.
Garner writes further: “Emigrate is to immigrate as go is to come, or as take is to bring. People emigrate from or out of [a country] and immigrate to or into another.

He offers two examples, which I am reporting in corrected format:
(1) “The store is owned by Maria Guadalupe Flores, a native of Mexico who immigrated into the US at age 17.” “Cinderella Story MN,” Pioneer Press (St. Paul), 19 May 1996, D7.

(2) “His most recent hire is a programmer he recruited and helped to emigrate from Singapore.” Lisa Biank Fasig, “Jetsoft Co. Scans Its Way to Innovation,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 15 May, 1997, J3.

The best way to resolve what my ESL student called “hard to remember” linguistic differences is to keep using them, actively, in spoken and written English.

And if that fails, consult Garner’s Modern American Usage on an as-needed



Thanks this month go to the “Happiness Team” of Ed Gandia, based near Atlanta, GA, for sending me Topher Payne’s rewritten ending to “The Giving Tree.” Ed’s support team are generous in spirit and I am grateful.
And a huge thank you to Topher Payne for revising Silverstein’s disturbing fable!

In other news, special thanks this month go to novelist and friend, Lesley-Anne McLeod, for sharingher beautiful garden and wonderful conversation, two weekends ago.

Despite the drought, Lesley, as a devoted gardener, has daily watered (manually) and maintained beautiful plants and flowers, over the past three months. Her garden has even offered refuge to a wild rabbit (a “rabbit-in-residence”), which also shared his/her company, during our recent visit.

Have you found it wonderful to reconnect with old friends, after you’ve become fully vaccinated? I see plenty of photographic evidence over Facebook and Instagram!
I’m also delighted to be asked to reprise my business communication seminars for the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship. I look forward to adapting curriculum to meet the needs of new entrepreneurs-in-training in an online (Zoom-based) format.
Another word of special thanks to entrepreneur and language teacher Steve Cavan (formerly of Paddock Wood Brewery) who has generously shared his insight, tips and skills with me, as I register to teach ESL online.
And my thoughts this month are with the province’s teachers and educators who strive to return to in-person learning, when children have not been able to be vaccinated, and when some adult learners have refused (for various reasons) to do so.
And thanks to my faithful readers for their patience with this month’s newsletter, prepared when the iContact platform was not fully functioning–especially with its spell-check!
Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now help Canadian newcomers to secure better jobs by improving their language skills; I assist SMEs in closing more sales by communicating more effectively; and I write the legacy stories of major companies.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant
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