Emperor’s Three Questions by Christopher Pavese, Broyhill Asset Management
Every summer, Jill takes the boys down to Florida to spend time with Nana at the beach. The first few days are incredibly productive. I dive into work and stay plugged in around the clock. But a few weeks of absolute silence at home are more than enough.
Rather than offer up any more commentary on Brexit, Turkey or the Italian banks, I sat down today to write a note to my son, Lucca. He’s not reading yet. We are still working on underwear. But my wife did set up a Gmail account for him shortly after he was born. So I occasionally drop him a note when I come across something worth sharing.
I’ll get back to work on our mid-year letter next week. In the interim, here’s a sappy letter from Dad.
You’ve been at the beach with Mom and “Tuck” (that’s what you call Carter – we have no idea why) for three weeks now. I’ll be picking you guys up from the airport on Wednesday. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see you.
When you are home, your Mom and I cherish every free second of “quiet time” – which averages out to about 42 seconds per week, but who’s counting! But at this point, I’ve had more than enough quiet time for one summer.
I’ve been up to the mountains a few times, which is a wonderful place to sit and think. I’ve taken several rides on the Blue Ridge Parkway and got caught in the rain a few times! I still find riding a motorcycle to be one of the most therapeutic exercises for the mind (yes, your Dad had a motorcycle; but I imagine by the time you can read this, your Mom will have prompted me to get rid of it, like the pool table in the living room when we first met).
I took a hike up to Table Rock with Stella. You are going to love that trail when you get a little bit older. Stella, on the other hand, loved it more when she was a little bit younger.
Your Mom would go nuts if she were home with me the past few weeks. Mom likes lots of noise around the house. The TV’s always on. Phones are beeping and ringing. Pots and pans are banging. Not to mention lots of yelling when you and your brother are home.
Dad, on the other hand, usually just sits and reads in silence. If Stella is barking too much, I’ll occasionally put on my headphones and listen to some music while reading. I read a lot. I hope you will learn to love reading too. As a kid, I never read for pleasure. Today, it’s all Dad does. As a friend of mine said, “I’m not smart enough to figure all of this out myself. So I try to master the best of what other people have already figured out. The best way to do this is to read a lot. And so I make friends with the eminent dead.”
Here’s my reading list from last year. Can you imagine the head start you’d have if you began reading this often decades earlier than Dad? I’ve slowed down a bit this year, mainly to go back and review what I learned last year. But I’ve still managed to read almost a dozen books while you’ve been at the beach!
I’ve been reading a lot on the practice of mindfulness in recent months. This is something I aim to begin practicing with you soon, as you appear to have gotten Dad’s attention span, in addition to his fascination with superheroes (by the way, you own shares of Time Warner, so technically Superman and Batman work for you).
And with that very long-winded introduction, here’s the story that prompted this letter to you. I came across it, in a book first published about twenty years ago – The Miracle of Mindfulness. The book was written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who was nominated for the Nobel Prize by Martin Luther King.
The Story of the Emperor’s Three Questions
One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.
- What is the best time to do each thing?
- Who are the most important people to work with?
- What is the most important thing to do at all times?
The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer.
In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.
Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.
Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice.
Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers.
The responses to the second question also lacked accord.
One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors.
The third question drew a similar variety of answers.
Some said science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.
The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given.
After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.
Reaching the holy man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily.