My Analysis of ‘‘Three Questions’’ by Tolstoy
This year, I was anxious to gain a high piano exam score. I can compare my manners to the King in Tolstoy’s “Three Questions”. You see, in “Three Questions”, the King declared that he would reward the man who could teach him, “What was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.” hoping that if he gained this information, he would never fail in anything he might undertake. But not one answer pleased the King so he asked a poor yet wise hermit. And by humbling himself to interact with people he would normally not associate with, the King learned that he must not concentrate about the future but the present—the most important time and only time he can control.
My piano exam is one of the best examples about how the King’s and my own manners are similar. For my piano exam, I needed to memorize ten classical and baroque period pieces; each piece two to fifty pages long. Soon the final two weeks before my piano exam arrived and I doubted if I could memorize my fifty page piece, a Mozart Concerto early enough. So, I talked to my teacher about my concerns and he permitted me to shorten the piece into two movements. But I still doubted. Days of practicing passed and I became anxious for my other nine pieces were not perfect. And it was difficult to incorporate each lengthy ten pieces into a single practice.
These problems worried me. What if I received a horrible score? Would I have a strict judge like I did years ago--when I failed? Oh, I hope not!
But now, I realize that I should not have worried about the exam score. I should have looked at my conflicts at a different perspective, “Hmm…I don’t know what exam score I will receive but I do know what I need to work on now. I can work hard to achieve my goals now. I don’t know what will happen later, but I can fix my mistakes now.” As I am retelling this story, I realize I should not have procrastinated saying, “I’ll do this… tomorrow,” because I cannot control tomorrow; I can only control today.
I was anxious to memorize my pieces on time and do well in my exam. But instead of finding better ways to practice, I imagined upcoming scenarios that never occurred. The King in “Three Questions” was anxious to discover more important skills for the future. And he was so anxious to discover them that he was willing to humble himself to associate with the hermit. The King and I both tried to control tomorrow in different ways.
The King visited the hermit in hopes of discovering important skills he assumed he should know to apply into the future. But instead, he learned something else that is more beneficial: the present is the most important time; whoever he is currently speaking to is the most important person, and finally, whatever is his current occupation is the most important business because the present is the most important time and only time he can control.
That is not the only example of how we try to control tomorrow, instead of today. Sometimes we may find it difficult to forgive and make peace with people right away and we may leave it for another day. At one time, that was me.
Two years ago, my closest friend ended our friendship. Though hurt, I assured her that if she ever changed her mind, I would receive her with open arms. Before she had officially ended our friendship, during the times we spent together, we had argued back and forth regarding topics we disagreed on. Also, as we began to attend different churches, jealousy formed on both sides about who was one’s best friend. After parting, our bitterness towards each other increased and our time together lapsed. I began to regret my promise that I would receive her with open arms yet I moved on with life, establishing new friendships along the way.
Following that time, although we rarely saw each other, memories remained. Thus, it is not surprising that a year later, I began to ponder what had damaged our friendship and who was to blame.
Starting that time, I think that was when forgiveness was slowly forming into my heart. But it still was not true forgiveness--true forgiveness comes from the deepest part of the heart. I began to pray for her; and I was able to ask God to bless her.
When we had an opportunity to update each other on our life, I felt ashamed when I realized that I had not yet truly forgiven her. I unlike the king was not ready to humble myself and give her the apology I knew I owed her.
But one day, I was changed and I found that I was able to genuinely forgive her. Afterwards, peace filled my heart and after two long years, I had truly forgiven her. But before I could tell her and apologize, I received an email from her. To my surprise, she had actually apologized—before I did! I would have never guessed what beautiful experiences came out of forgiveness simply because—guiltiness, bitterness, and anger were replaced with peace, joy, and yes, even love.
If I did not humble myself to forgive my friend, I would not have experienced the peace, joy, and love that were brought forth. Moreover, if the King did not humble himself to visit the hermit, he would not have learned from the hermit.
While the King was asking the hermit his questions, a wounded man ran towards the King and the hermit, fainting before them. So the King tended to the stranger’s wounds until he himself was so exhausted, he fell asleep. When he awoke, the wounded man, who was now awake, confessed his story. “I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!" After he revealed his story to the King, the King not only forgave him but promised to restore his property.
In “Three Questions”, the enemy of the King did not waste his time apologizing his disloyalty to the King. In fact, Tolstoy mentions that he begged pardon “in a weak voice.” He did what was right immediately even though he was physically weak. In apologizing to the King, his life was at risk because the King had the power to punish or even kill him. It took me one whole year to willingly humble myself before God and my friend, but the former enemy of the King
humbled himself that evening. He could have not told the King his evil plot and the King may have never found out. But the King’s enemy did not and he choose the harder way—he pleaded for forgiveness despite the fact that his life would be at risk. He focused on completing duties in the present not the future.
The King’s men in ‘Three Questions’ nearly killed the King’s enemy. The same goes with the King’s enemy—he nearly killed the King. If either party killed the other party, the King might have never found answers to his questions. More importantly, he and his enemy would have never made peace. That is why it is crucial to complete your business now and not the later.
Now you may disagree about the main point in this essay: you should not concentrate about the future but the present. You may be saying, “You should concentrate on the future. Don’t you have to decide what college you will have to attend, what job you should apply for, or how much money you will have to earn to retire?” Yes, those are very important subjects. Let’s take a job offer for an example. You have two job offers. Which one do you choose? In order to decide, you must ponder on it, thinking about the “pros and cons” with both jobs. But it is not right to think that with this job you are going to live in a mansion because you will earn a certain amount of money because you did not even apply for the job yet! How do you know that much you will earn? You may become laid-off or fired. But it is sometimes necessary to ponder over it, but it may not be necessary to begin planning your life as if it will definitely occur—for we do not know what will happen in the future.
The King certainly did not know what would happen in the future either. No one does. And if the King did not choose humble himself to interact with peasants, he would not have learned anything. He wouldn’t have learned these two lessons: one, every moment of life has its
most important responsibilities and two, fulfilling every responsibility now is important to apply in life. As a pianist, I discovered that it is a waste of time to imagine scenes about the future since what I imagine may not even happen and instead of imagining the future, I try to find better ways to practice.
The enemy of the King attempted to kill the King, but after witnessing the King’s kindness towards him (yes, the King did not recognize him, but he still helped him), the enemy decided to apologize as soon as he was able. Although forgiving wrongs are never easy for me, I should have apologized to my friend as soon as possible just like the King’s enemy. I should have humbled myself like the King. But I did not—so my friend and I remained hostile for a longer time. Thus, we should make peace with all now especially since the present is the only time we can control.
We must not concentrate about the future but the present because the present is the most important time and only time we can control. Instead, we should take care of our business now, not later. And hopefully, if we concentrate on the present, we can make more use of our time and perhaps, change the outcome of the future.
Tolstoy, Leo. “Three Questions.” What Men Live By and Other Tales, trans. L. and A. Maude. N.p: 2Project Gutenberg, 2009. N.pag.1 Web. 1 July 2012.
I wrote this for a Writing Camp last July and revised it late last year.
I actually have no idea why I am posting this. I guess I want to see if any of you can spot the major downfalls of this essay. There are so many...I don't even want to talk about it. CRITIQUE please!