In a parable written by Leo Tolstoy in 1885 called the Three Questions, a King decides that he will never fail if he knows the answer to three questions:
- What is the right time to begin?
- Who are the right people to listen to?
- What is the most important thing to do?
Question three can be particularly agonising…. What should I do? It’s a question that leaders need to answer for themselves and for their followers many times a day. It’s a question that defines the condition of us conscious, social apes. It is the sometimes sickening downside of human free-will.
I’ve been fascinated by the question What should I do? since I first read Jean-Paul Sartre in A level Philosophy and decided with teenage pretentiousness that I was an Existentialist. An Existentialist would say there is no easy answer and would be deeply suspicious of those who claim one. Engaging fully with the agony of the question is the only way to live authentically.
*Here are Tolstoy’s answers to his three questions:
Question One: What is the right time to begin?
Answer: The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.
Question Two: Who are the right people to listen to?
Answer: The most important person is whoever you are with.
Question Three: What is the most important thing to do?
Answer: The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.