Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Crisis Too Urgent for Wisdom

The following is an excerpt from an address to the Minnesota Social Investment Forum delivered 6/7/1993 by Daniel Quinn:

It happened once that a certain Thomas Abbens, or Abbena, reputed to be the wisest man in Europe at that time, was summoned to the court of a young Walachian prince. "I'm in need of a shrewd advisor," the prince informed him. "My subjects are unruly, my enemies ambitious, my sons disobedient, and my wife deceitful. Yet it may be that I will master them all, with your help."

"I'll gladly help you," Abbens replied, "but as a teacher, not as an advisor. We must review your education and remedy its manifest deficiencies."

But the prince sent the wise man away, saying, "It's not my education that troubles me but rather my subjects, my enemies, my sons, and my wife."

A score of years passed before the prince once again summoned Abbens to his side. "I bitterly regret," he said, "that I declined the proposal you made to me, but there's no time to accept it now, for the situation is desperate. My subjects plot against me, my enemies encroach at will upon our lands, my sons defy me before their friends, and my wife contrives to alienate what few allies I have left. Guide me through this crisis with your wisdom, then there'll be time to remedy the deficiencies you perceive in my education."

The wise man shook his head and replied, "What you're asking is that I become prince to your subjects, warrior to your enemies, father to your sons, and husband to your wife. How can this possibly save you? You must learn to become these things yourself, and even a feeble beginning is better than none at all."

But the prince sent Abbens away a second time, saying, "If you won't help me in this hour of crisis, then I must seek one who will."

When Abbens next met the prince, a decade later, he was a prince no longer but only a beggar in the streets of Budapest.

"It happened a year ago," the former prince explained. "Because my subjects were in open rebellion, my sons conspired to seize the throne. And my enemies, informed of the conspiracy by my treacherous wife, chose this opportunity to fall upon us. But perhaps some good may yet come of these calamities, for, if you will share it with me, I am at least now free to avail myself of the wisdom I formerly rejected."

But Abbens replied: "The catastrophe that wisdom might have averted has already befallen you. Of what use is wisdom to you now?"

3 comments:

Heather said...

What a profound lesson. Funny how we always want answers to change the world but not ourselves.

Jonathan Pfeiffer said...

This story reminds me of the current climate change situation. Last year the British government published a seminal report on the economics of climate change, which depicts our current quandary as remarkably similar to that of this prince. The Review's Executive Summary (which is worth a browse) bluntly states: "The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs." The alternative, supposedly, could lead to a severe economic disaster.

Scott said...

I like what Heather mentioned and what Jon alluded to...keep these things in mind for our discussion on Friday. Thanks for your comments guys!