three questions from Russia with love

 Lev Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a prolific Russian writer who is widely known for his novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He was also a philosopher. And he also wrote essays,  poetry and short stories.

One of my favorite short stories that he wrote is “The Three Questions” (Muth & Tolstoy, 2002; Tolstoy, 1903, 2005). In the story a King decides that if he knew the right time to begin anything, the right people to listen to, and the most important thing to do, he would never fail in his endeavors. And so the King sets off in search of answers to his questions.  After much searching, the King comes upon a hermit, who ignores the King and continues with his own work. After a time, the King takes up the hermits spade and helps him with his gardening, and subsequently helps to bandage and care for a wounded man who comes upon the King and the hermit. These actions indirectly save the King’s life – through the delay in his travel, and his care of the wounded man the King circumvents a revenge plot on the his life by the wounded man and his sons. As he prepares to leave the hermit, the King asks his questions once more. The hermit replies that the questions have already been answered:

“If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else.  And the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life! (Tolstoy, 1903, 2005)”

When? Who? What? When is the right time for to work for justice and human rights? Who are the right people to engage in our work? What are the right tasks to bring about the alchemy of justice and rights?  Now those are some questions worth tackling with all the love in our hearts!


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