One Instance of Horrible Wisdom - Rectified

There is some wisdom that is good, but there is also bad wisdom. Today we shall take a look at the bad.

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Once upon a time there was a king who had a son. He wanted his son to have the best of everything, including education. But, the time of kings and princes is very limited. The king decided that he needed the best education for the prince in the shortest amount of time. He assembled a great many of the learned men in his kingdom and set them a task, reduce all of the knowledge that they had into as short a time as possible for the prince. They set about their task. It was a large endeavor. They wrote, discussed, debated, and rewrote textbooks. Finally, after 4 years of effort they came to the king and said that they could teach him everything that there was to know in 16 years.

The king was upset about this. "My son, the prince, will be 20 in 16 years. He cannot be reading textbooks still! He must be leading my armies along our borders by then. You need to do better. It needs to be faster." Thus, the great scholars set back to their work. They discussed, debated, and rewrote the textbooks. After another 4 years they came to the king and the Chief Royal Education Officer said, "Your Highness, the Grace of our land and our lives, we have done what you've asked and we can teach the prince everything that there is to know in 13 years."

The king's mouth drooped with a look of disgust, but his eyes showed only contempt. "In 13 years my son will be 21 years old. He must be conquering new lands by then, he cannot still be learning from his textbooks! It needs to be faster." So, the scholars set to work once again.

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Eventually, the story goes on to reduce all knowledge down to one single phrase, "This too shall pass." The story is good, this is my own take on it from having heard it many years ago, but the phrase "This too shall pass" is not. Why?

There are two reasons, 1 - It's quite passive. "This too shall pass?" You're just waiting for stuff to pass, like you can outlast everything, not a good strategy. 2 - It lends itself to the idea that something being transitory means that the thing does not have value. The opposite of this is often true. It's hard to find the meaning of life because that's all about a specific person fulfilling a specific meaning in a specific situation. It's easier to explain the meaning of death. The meaning of death is that your time is limited. It's running out. If you want to do something you need to do it now. Life is one huge exercise in opportunity cost, to use the economics term.

It would be all too easy to say, "Well, it's just a trash story with a trash meaning and moral. Let's just throw it out with the rest of the garbage." But that's not true. It's a good story, with a trash moral. We can do better.

Obviously, my version of the story would go on. It would culminate in the king being furious at some point. They would come back with a one-line answer to all of the knowledge in existence, and that would be...

"Things can change." That seems decent. "Things will change." That seems better, because it is more true. "Things change." I like that even better, more to the point. "Things change, but there are patterns." Now we're getting somewhere. It's a truth, but it's also quite a bit more active wisdom. If there's a pattern then you can figure it out and do something about it. "Things change, but there is a pattern." In the singular it's even better, it makes your perspective personal and singular.

With this phrase in mind, "Things change, but there is a pattern." you could go back through the story and work out an interesting pattern to the timeframes, make it work according to Fibonacci numbers or something.

I think this would be a great improvement to the story. It changes a passive and devaluing moral of a story into a story that teaches us to be inquisitive about the patterns that unfold in the universe and our position as a potential active catalyst for that change. Let me know what you think.


I've written three fictional pieces that I like so far.

"The City of Peace" - A future history science fiction utopia/dystopia action adventure in a framed story of a father telling his son a story about the child's grandfather. That was a crazy sentence.

"The Birth of Hanniba'al" - A dark, somewhat alternative, historical origin story for the Carthage General Hannibal.

"Matt's Eyes" - Don't read this if you don't like horror stories.

Here are three of my most popular posts.

"The Making of a Great First Line in Fiction"

"A Letter to My Niece in 2034"

"The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4"

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