photo courtesy Morguefile.com
Good evening, graduates:
A favorite short story of mine, The Emperor’s Three Questions, was written by the Russian author, Count Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace fame, and published in 1903. His short story has been retold in a children’s version by Jon J. Muth, under the title, The Three Questions. The story is about identifying what in life is truly important, which is what I want to talk about for the next few minutes.
Everyday, we’re all faced with making decisions about one thing or another, and it is often difficult to decide what to do, let alone determine the best thing to do. Each day is filled with tiny milestones and some days, like tonight, represent more significant events in our lives.
Graduation is just one of many memorable points in your lives to this point. Other milestones you've achieved so far might be:
- your first birthday;
- your first day of kindergarten
- your last day of kindergarten;
- learning to read;
- the first 3-pointer you ever made in a basketball game;
- your first car;
- your first love;
- your first heartbreak;
- and so on.
- What’s going to happen to me now?
- Should I start out at a 2-year college or go straight to a 4-year?
- Maybe I should go to a technical school.
- Should I take some time to get a job and figure out what I want to do?
- Did I make the right career choice?
- Did I marry the right person?
- Should I get married?
- Should I change jobs? Change careers?
- Do I want children?
- Should I...?
- Why did I...?
- Why didn’t I...?
The first question is this: When is the best time to do things?
The second question is: Who is the most important one?
And the third question is: What is the right thing to do?
So, when is the best time to do things? How can we really know? It’s important to plan and consider all the options; weigh the pros and cons. There’s just not a simple answer.
Who is the most important one? That’s easy, you say. The important ones are the people you care about; your friends and family. While I agree that’s true, the question is, who is the most important ONE? Now that’s more complicated. And you might argue that it’s impossible to choose just one important person in your life.
It is a dilemma. Now, let’s go on to the third question.
What is the right thing to do? This question prompts even more questions.
- Is this a moral question?
- An ethical question?
- Or is it a spiritual question?
- Maybe it’s legal question?
- Perhaps it’s even a financial question.
- You may be wondering how anyone can possibly resolve this conundrum in light of so many influencing factors to consider.
How did Tolstoy solve the riddle of The Three Questions? While it is up to each of you, individually, to find your own personal answers to life’s mysteries, Tolstoy’s answers are quite straight-forward. To paraphrase, Tolstoy said,
Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future. For these, my dear graduates, are the answers to what is most important in this world.
To the graduates of the world, I wish each of you all the best as you search for your own answers to life’s Three Questions.