The duke, the prison, and the mysterious door

In the Apulia region of southern Italy, there once was a local duke who was seen as a very tough enforcer of local tax collection. 100% of accused tax evaders who came before him were imprisoned for a minimum of one year.

One day, a man named Franco came before the duke with ten other accused tax evaders.

One by one, the accused would enter a room with the duke. And one by one, they each were sentenced to a year in prison.

When it was Franco’s turn, he entered the room and proclaimed his innocence to the duke.

The duke responded, “Despite my reputation, I am a fair man. I will let you choose. You can spend one year in prison OR you can choose what’s behind that black door over there.”

The duke pointed to a dark, steel door on the opposite side of the room.

Franco looked at the door and asked, “Kind and fair duke, thank you for your fairness. What, may I ask, is on the other side of that door?”

The duke replied, “The only way to find out is to choose and walk through it. But there is no going back once you have opened that door.”

Now, Franco earned a lot of money as a businessman in his small town. He was married and had two kids. A year in prison, he thought, might jeopardize his income. It would keep him apart from his family and damage his relationships. He also had heard of the harsh conditions of the prison and worried about his mental and physical health.

Forget it, he thought, “I’m going to take what’s behind that dark door. It could be something spectacular. Certainly no worse than prison!”

He began to walk toward the door.

Before he opened it, however, massive doubt began to creep in.

“What if what’s behind this door is horrible?”

“What if it’s not what I hope it is?”

“What if I don’t survive it?”

After all, in prison he would be fed. He’d have a roof over his head. Hopefully, after a year, he could rekindle his relationship with his family. Yes, he thought, I can tough out a year in prison.

He turned sharply, walked back to the Duke, and said, “Okay, I choose prison.”

With that, Franco was escorted out of the castle and to the local prison.

Later that night, the Duke hosted a banquet in honor of the visiting King of Naples.

The King had heard of the Duke’s strict conviction record for accused tax evaders, and asked him, “I heard of the unique choice you provide the accused — choosing prison or what’s behind the dark door. What, exactly, is behind the dark door?”

The Duke smiled.

“Freedom,” he said.

“Freedom?” the King asked.

“Yes,” replied the Duke. “If they open the dark door, they are exonerated and go on to live a life of freedom.

“Interestingly, nobody has ever chosen to open the door.”

What will it take for you to choose the door to freedom?

There are variations of this story to be found on the Internet, but I adapted it to reflect my recent trip to southern Italy, as well as real fears I hear from prospective and new clients.

The prison reflects our comfort zone — even if it is a comfort zone of misery. It’s the devil we know. Even though we suspect the lifestyle we desire is on the other side of that door, it’s easier to stick with what we know, even if we are miserable.

If you’re in that comfort zone of misery … what will it take to get you to open the door to freedom?

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