What you can learn from “Green Eggs and Ham”

by Amy Young on June 21, 2020

If you’ve read Green Eggs and Ham by children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, you might have found yourself sucked in by the gravitational pull of the repetitive story.  For those not familiar with the book no worries, I can catch you up to speed. Sam-I-Am (the main character) wants the other character who is never named but looks like a Grumpy Old Man to try green eggs and ham. Sam-I-Am asks the Grumpy Old Man over and over if he would be willing to try green eggs; and when he is refused by the Grumpy old man he offers different options.

For instance:

Would you like them in a house?
Would you like them with a mouse? 

I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere. 

You can read the entire book here; but if you can, get the book and enjoy the colorful illustrations. Finally, in the middle of the story the exasperated Grumpy Old Man says: 

Sam! If you let me be,
I will try them. You will see. 

He tries them and . . . 

Say! I like green eggs and ham! 
I do! I like them, Sam-I-Am!

He joyfully repeats all of the suggestions that Sam had made before, agreeing that he would indeed eat green eggs and ham:

And I would eat them in a boat.
And I would eat them with a goat.

You get the picture. No longer grumpy, the Old Man ends the story:

I do so like green eggs and ham!
Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-Am.

Last week I read a bit of trivia about this book that had me look at it in a new way and wonder what we could learn from this unlikely teacher.

1. The challenge and power of limits

Green Eggs and Ham is the result of a bet between Dr. Seuss and his editor. Green Eggs and Ham uses only 50 different words. Seuss’s editor bet him after The Cat in the Hat, which used 225 words, that he couldn’t write a book using fewer.

Green Eggs and Ham went on to become one of his most popular books and only uses 50 words. Though a fun fact, let’s not downplay the challenge of telling a story that makes sense within the limits. Right now the world over it seems that “restrictions” is the name of the game. Visas aren’t being issued or are glacially slow in being issued. The way that you have typically gone about life and sharing the Good News have been radically altered and you may not even be in the same country as those you came to serve. Or you’re in the same country but without easy access to people.

It’s tempting to look at the limit and see what can’t be, instead of to look at what is possible. Imagine if the final version of Green Eggs and Ham came in at 52 words? No go. Dr. Seuss had to find a way to cut extra two words. Because he was willing to invest the time in crafting and recrafting the story, the world now has this story that can be told for years to come. Though your challenges and limits are real (and annoying and heart breaking), you can still “tell a story.”

2. Life is repetitive

Without too much effort, by the end of the story, the reader could almost retell it without effort. Why? Because the story is so annoyingly repetitive! First the bad news, life on the field isn’t nearly as non-stop-exciting as many “back home” think. Instead, it can be mind numbingly repetitive. Laundry, food prep, emails, time in traffic. 

But now for the good news . . . repetition is a tool of memorization. As we present the Good News, disciple people, and walk with them as they join in sharing, you get to repeat the good news again and again. When Sam-I-Am got his first no from the Grumpy Old Man when he asked him “Would you like green eggs and ham?” he didn’t let every subsequent no get stop him. Instead, he thought of another situation (with a goat or on a boat) that maybe, just maybe the Grumpy Old Man would be willing to try.

Not in an obnoxious YOU MUST LISTEN way, but in a I’m never going to tire of pointing you to the source of life way, embrace the repetitive nature of this story.

3. Change is Possible

While there is no reason to read into a story what isn’t there, it is fun to make connections. I don’t think Green Eggs and Ham is a secretly Christian book. I am sure that Sam got his name because it creates a great beat when reading: 

Sam-I-Am

If this were a song, that’s a beat you can dance too!

But I also love truth woven into a story. Sam never wearied of asking the Grumpy Old Man if he would try green eggs and ham because he knew, he knew, he knew that if Grumpy would try them, he would love them and wouldn’t be so grumpy. The great I AM also never wearies of asking Grumpy, Sad, Betrayed, Lonely, Angry, Depressed people to try a new way of living because he knows that it’s the only way to truly live. In the end, the Old Man is actually a New Man, full of hope, joy, and gratitude.

Maybe today you don’t need another zoom call or a deep study. Maybe what you need is Green Eggs and Ham.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouison Unsplash

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About Amy Young

Amy Young wants to help people find the sweet spot between burn out and rust out with ongoing personal and professional development. Founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, she personally blogs at Messy Middle, and is the author of four books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying Newsletters, and GettingStarted. You too can live in your sweet spot.

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