Pilling the Bull


The problem with swallowing distasteful medication isn’t always the medicine itself; rather, it’s how it’s administered, says Ami Hendrickson.

A local farmer invested in a prize bull. A few weeks later, the animal developed an infection that made him miserable.

vet prescribed a seemingly simple remedy: give the bull the contents of a bottle of pills each day for a week. But how would the farmer make an animal weighing more than a tonne swallow 90 pills at a time if he didn’t want to?

The farmer took a few hired hands to help him “pill the bull.” One placed a noose around the great creature’s neck and stood off to the left. Another man placed another noose around the bull’s neck and stood to the right.

The farmer took a funnel and, with some resistance from the patient, pried open the beast’s mouth and wedged the funnel into place. Down went the pills. All was well until the bull sneezed!

Pandemonium erupted in the stockyard. The men handling the animal couldn’t run far or fast enough to dodge the pea-sized projectiles shooting like buckshot from the bull’s nose! The hastily abandoned funnel and ropes lay where they fell, as the sneezing rampage continued until the bull had exhausted its supply of ammunition.
When it was all over, the contents of the pill bottle glistened in the corral’s dust.

A few days after hearing about this sneezing bull, I experienced a similar event firsthand. A friend phoned me, angry about the unsolicited advice another friend had given her. As she ranted, I couldn’t help but think that the advice—though uninvited and undiplomatically delivered—despite its bluntness, was accurate.

But there was no way I could lessen my friend’s hurt feelings and wounded pride. Her litany of the wrongs committed by our mutual friend, both real and imagined, grew at an alarming rate. I grew increasingly uncomfortable as my ears burned at the counter insults, made juicier by tidbits of gossip that surrounded her offender.
As my friend’s denunciations increased, I had a deja vu moment. The bull …

I imagined the bovine sneezing buckshot into my ear. The problem for both my friend and the unfortunate patient wasn’t the medicine itself. Rather, it was in its mode of delivery.

The Bible-writer Paul knew the value of tempering fact with tact. “If someone is caught in a sin,” he wrote to his friends in the church at Galatia, “you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”1 Later, he restated the concept, advising the young Timothy, “Correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2

But back to the bull. The farmer practised gentleness and patience the next time he medicated his bull. He crushed the pills to powder, added water, and mixed the pill paste in with the animal’s feed. Like an aspirin mixed in a teaspoon of jam, the medicine disappeared with breakfast. The process was painless, and the bull received the long-term benefits he needed.

It’s challenging to remember this concept when dealing with others. It is so easy to see a perceived shortcoming and want to jam a wide-mouthed funnel into the situation and force-feed my solution. But all too often my well-meaning remedy is too much, too fast. And I find myself cringing at how forcefully my advice is rejected.

The next time I feel compelled to offer advice, I pray that I’ll temper it with gentleness and patience—the principles of bull pilling. Then my words, like the bull’s pills, have the potential of doing some good without turning into weapons of destruction.

1. Galatians 6:1
2. 2 Timothy 4:2

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