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I'VE BEEN SITTING HERE ALL DAY ...Previous Story: Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

"Leo Tolstoy's story The Three Questions was first published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By, and other tales," Rosh said.

"A King once thought that he would never fail in anything he undertook, if he knew three things:"

  1. When was the right time to do it?
  2. Who were the right people to work with?
  3. What was the most important thing to do?

"So he issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could show him how to determine these things would be handsomely rewarded."

"Many made their way to his palace, but each had a different answer. What would you have suggested to the King, if you had been there?"

"To know the right time for every action," Josh said, "all tasks will need to be deliberated upon in advance. Then all worthy tasks will need to be assigned a specific time in the King's timetable, which should then be strictly followed. Only then could everything be done at its proper time."

"Indeed," Rosh agreed, "That was one of the suggestions. But others argued that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, and plan for everything."

"They suggested instead, that the King would do better by not mucking around and wasting time in idle pastimes, like WhatsApp and Facebook. If he always remained attentive to everything, then he would know what most needed doing at any time. What do you think of that?"

"No man by himself," Josh disagreed, "could not have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task. What the King really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then act according to their advice."

"That was also suggested," Rosh continued, "But someone else disagreed with that. They said that certain matters needed immediate decision making and could not wait for committee consultations."

"They recommended instead, that if the King wanted to know in advance what was going to happen, he should be consulting astrologers and soothsayers."

Josh shook his head in disagreement, but said nothing. Rosh waited for a response, but when nothing further was added by Josh, Rosh continued.

"Responses to the second question also lacked accord," he said, "One person said that the King needed to place all his trust in his councilors and administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians and doctors. Still others put their faith in warriors and armies."

"No consensus could be reached on the third question either. Some said pursuit of knowledge was the most important thing to do. Others insisted on pursuit of happiness, religious worship, serving the people or technological progress."

"Yet others claimed that what a King most needed to do was to acquire military skill and equipment so he could successfully wage war and protect his citizens, which was his primary duty."

"What do you think of these answers?" asked Rosh, as the two walked alongside each other.

"I don't know, Pa" answered Josh, "it all seems reasonable advice, but everything also has its limitations. Perhaps the right answer is a sum of these parts. And each part gets applied on a case by case basis as different parts may be right in different situations. What did the King think of them?"

"The King was not satisfied either," Rosh continued, "So no rewards were given. After a lot of reflection, he resolved however, to consult an old hermit who was famous for his wisdom."

"The hermit lived on a mountain and never travelled away from his home. He was known to receive only the commoners, refusing to have anything to do with the wealthy or powerful."

"So the King disguised himself as a simple peasant. He ordered his body-guards to wait for him at the foot of the mountain and climbed the narrow hilly path alone to speak with the hermit."

"The hermit was digging flower beds when the King arrived. When he saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. He was frail and weak, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn a little earth, he breathed heavily. The labor was obviously hard on him."

"The King went up to him and said: "I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn when is the right time to do something? How do I know who are the most important people to work with, at any time? And, how do I decide what affairs are the most important, and therefore need my first attention?"

"The hermit listened attentively but continued digging."

The King said, "You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that."

The hermit thanked him, handed him the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest. The sun was now high up in the sky, and it was beginning to get very hot.
After digging for a while, the King stopped to rest too. He turned to the hermit and asked his questions again."

"The hermit still did not answer, but rose instead, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said "Are you tired? I can take over again."

But the King shook his head and continued to dig. The hermit started planting seeds in the newly dug beds. One hour passed, then another. Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the mountain. Finally, the King stuck the spade into the ground and sat down to rest beside the hermit.

"I came to you, wise man," he said, "for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home."

"Well," said Josh, able to contain himself no longer, "did the hermit not know the answers, or did he not want to tell him because he had recognized the King?"

"Neither," said Rosh, "but by making him wait, don't you think the hermit illustrated that there is a right time for everything. Even for answering questions. The wait in itself was part of his first answer."

"Really?" Josh asked skeptically, "And what was the rest of his answer?"

"Tomorrow," teased Rosh, "I'll tell you tomorrow. Wait awhile, and think about it. Patience is a virtue, you know."

'I know of another virtue,' thought Josh, but didn't say anything.

As soon as he was back home, he googled it.


Next Story: The Three Questions - Answered

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