In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, The Three Questions, a king seeks the answer to three questions. He believes the answers will help him handle any situation he may confront. In Jon J. Muth’s children’s book of the same name, a boy named Nikolai believes the answers to these questions will help him be a good person. On Friday, while speaking with the Orientation Leaders, I suggested that these questions and answers could help them be good OL’s. These must be very big questions to address so many purposes!
In the way of kings, he asked his advisors for help with the questions, but the king wasn’t satisfied with their answers. In the way of children, Nikolai asked his friends. But their answers didn’t seem very helpful. So both of them went to the most knowledgeable resource they knew – the hermit and the old turtle, Leo. But neither the king nor the boy got an answer from the wise ones who kept on digging in their gardens. So the king and the boy took over the work, because as it says in the children’s version it’s not easy for an old turtle to dig with a shovel. As the parallel stories continue, both the king and the boy respond to emergency situations taking care of the injured.
At the end of the story, the seeker turns to the wise one asking the questions one more time at which point the answer is, but you did get the answer through your experiences just now. Sounds a lot like Curly in the movie City Slickers – the secret of life is one thing, but you have to figure out what the one thing is. What is it with these wise ones? Why do they always tell us we have to learn our own lessons and answer our own questions? But, of course, that’s reality, isn’t it? The Orientation staff can spend all day and all semester in class telling the students what it means to be a good orientation leader. But until each student gets out there and works as an orientation leader, they don’t really know how to do it. We talk about Excellence in Service and Programming and the Four C’s, but until each of us works to put the ideas into practice, they are just words and don’t mean much. As much as I love to learn by reading, I know the only way to really learn a skill is to get out there and do it.
And so, while Leo the turtle finally does provide an answer to the three questions, the hard reality for Nikolai, for the king and for each of us is that the only way to be a good person, to handle any situation, and to be an outstanding staff member who provides true Excellence in Service and Programming, is to practice it for ourselves, every day, in every transaction, all year long. Big tasks, but that makes sense with such big questions.
Oh, did you want to know the questions and answers? Here’s a link.