The King and his advisor: A fairy tale

There once was a King who tried very hard to be just and fair. But because he tried to be just and fair he was often asked to judge.

This King originally held public court on Monday mornings, but once his subjects discovered that their King would try to be fair and just when he held court, more and more subjects appealed to him to resolve their grievances and disputes.

Soon he was holding court deep into Friday afternoon. He already had to stop playing golf with his advisors and ministers on Thursdays and he realized that in a few more weeks he would not be able to play with his kids over the weekend.

Furthermore, he no longer had time to read any of the important documents a King has to read. By holding public court he now knew all about his subjects and their problems with property disputes, divisions of estates, paternity disputes, patent infringements and local taxes, but he no longer could keep up with the news outside his borders. All he could do was quickly scan The Economist, but he no longer had time to read the reports prepared by his Intelligence Agency.

What was he going to do? He did not want to become an unjust King. He did not want his subjects to stop seeking council with him because he came to realize that some of the issues raised by his subjects were significant and could harm his kingdom if they were not quickly corrected.

He could ask one of his judges to listen to the subjects, but he was sure his subjects would feel he no longer cared if their audience was with a judge rather than a King.

What to do? This is when one of his advisors sent him an Email asking if they would ever play golf again.

This particular advisor was one of his best advisors. His name was Feynman; he was a man of vision and timing. He introduced golf to his kingdom and was the first to use Email. Especially being the first to use Email was really cool, because in the first few years all he could do was send emails to himself, and it takes a lot of will power to respond to your own emails.

Now Email was used by all his advisors, and the king decided to flash a message to the entire working group:

The King also wants to play golf, but cannot restrict his subjects’ access. How can the King deal with all these subjects who want us to listen to their problems?

All the advisors except Feynman responded. Each came up with all kinds of plans, paradigms, synergies and flowcharts.

The King had no time to read each one of them and when he tried to read them he didn’t understand them anyway, and he could not get that PDF reader to work so he never saw any of the flowcharts.

The King sent another email:
We are not amused. I need solutions.

The silence on the internet was audible.

Then Feynman sent an Email:
Your majesty:
Change nothing. Over the next few weeks just try to distinguish between issues that are important to the realm and issues that can be dealt with by your advisors and judges or by the subjects themselves.
If the issue does not affect the realm, rule by stating that “This too will pass”.
I have penciled in a golf date for Thursday two weeks from today.
Feynman

The King read this and replied:
Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman?

There was no reply from Mr. Feynman and on Monday morning, the King sat on his throne and the first petitioner knelt in front of him.

His dispute dealt with PCB dumping by a factory upstream of his salmon fishery. The king quickly determined that this was a serious issue and ordered that one of his advisors should make an inspection and report back to him within a week.

The next petitioner was a person who had just had a new home built next to an airport.

The petitioner had video tapes of the noise and his kids testified as to how they could not hear Nickelodean when the airplanes were landing and taking off. The man almost demanded that the airport be moved.

The king asked him: “Well didn’t you know you were building a house next to an airport?

“Yes”, the man said, “but I did not think it was going to be this bad”.

This was one of those cases that had been driving the King crazy. Most of the issues brought before him were about people who knew what they were doing was stupid, but fully expected him to bail them out when things didn’t work out as they had wished.

The King was just getting ready to patiently explain to the man that he was an idiot when he remembered Feynman’s advice.

He decided to give it a shot, he leaned back in his throne, made a thoughtful face and slowly said after a pause: “This too will pass”. The King was wondering what this would do to him and the petitioner, but he sure liked the puzzled expression on the petitioner’s face.

He waved to his Chief of the Guard to present the next subject.

The petitioner was mystified. What had the King just said? “This too will pass?”

What was he supposed to do now? He wanted to ask another question, but he was in front of the King. It was clear he had dismissed him and the guard almost had to pick him up and push him out the palace.

The petitioner was mulling over the King’s ruling. The King had not been unfriendly; he just did not know if the King had solved his problem.

Who could he appeal to? The King was the ultimate authority. He could not go to a lower court, they would simply repeat his ruling.

He drove home and was still wondering about what the King had said, when he got home. At home he was surprised to see that his wife was watching the soap opera on TV. She had been complaining about not being able to hear the soap operas whenever a plane took off and landed, and actually had stopped watching.

But here she was and the dialogue text was printed on the bottom of the screen. Where did that text come from? His wife said she did not know, but one of the neighbors had shown her how to turn it on, and it sure made watching the soaps enjoyable again.

Back at the palace the King was listening to the next petitioner. He had seen this man before, his name was Clauser. This man always had some complaint, and actually was a total idiot. Today he was complaining about the quality of the Kingdom’s cellular phone network. Here, in a flash of recognition, the King saw the beauty of Feynman’s advice.

He let the man speak long enough to make his point and then again ruled by stating with the proper gravity; “This too will pass”

This man also left totally mystified.

And so the day went. Nine out ten petitioners received the “This too will pass” answer, and everybody was mighty confused.

The King was happy; for once he managed to finish early, and when he came back to his quarters he actually thought of golf for a second before he started on his paperwork.

The evening newspapers were full of the King’s new rulings. Analysts, commentators and editors wrote about nothing else. The editors pushed the cellular phone company’s announcement that the digital cellular network was finally on line to page two and ran the “This too will pass” story on the cover.

The news channel made a wonderful montage of the King saying: “This too will pass” ten times in a row.

Stickers with “THIS TOO WILL PASS” were already being printed.

Still nobody really knew what it meant. Some were arguing the King had flipped his lid (the king was a great protector of freedom of speech). Others who had planned to petition later in the week were wondering what would happen to them.

A few analysts realized that things would never be the same, and even fewer started to analyze why so many had received “The ruling” while a few were dealt with as before; with vigor and wisdom and justice.

He received some Emails from his advisors, asking for further clarification on “This too will pass”. He did not answer them.

Nothing from Feynman though.

Before going to bed the King practiced saying “This too will pass” for a while, because tomorrow he wanted to get it just right. He realized from seeing the news channel montage that a few times he had said it without the proper timing and conviction.

The next day was the same. Nine out of ten petitioners received the “this too will pass”

Again he was finished early. That evening he played a little with his kids, and had a nice dinner and a drink with the Queen.

Before going to bed he called his valet and told him to tell the Royal Caddy to make sure his clubs were in tip top condition.

The next day the Chief of the Guard told him he had a couple of cancellations, and the number of “this too will passers” was down, which made it possible for him to finish even quicker. He was out of the hall by three.

Before going to the Royal Quarters he summoned the Royal Caddy and met him at the Royal Driving Range.

He sure was rusty, but the Royal Caddy was a true professional and they took some time to go through Jack Nicklaus’ 21 points for a pro swing and he was much improved by 4:30, and had another nice evening.

The next morning he was much more rested and relaxed than he had felt in months.

Before rushing to the Great Hall, he read the morning paper in his private quarters over a cup of coffee that the Queen had personally made for him. (She called it a reward for excellent service) There was an interesting headline: “The Crown Did Not Flip”.

The article went on to explain that a panel of experts had reviewed the King’s latest rulings and discovered that there was a system to his madness. It was concluded that the King had substantial inside information, and this was why he had “this too will passed” on Clauser’s cellular phone complaint. The King knew the new system would be running that day!

He had inside information, and must have good inside information on the other “this too will passers” too!

That day all the petitioners showed up and it was a long day. The King was a little displeased, but figured it might be a statistical anomaly.

When he left the Hall, one of his financial advisors came up to him. He was breathless with excitement, bowed quickly (a little too quickly and sloppily), and said: “Your Majesty did you hear about the stock market?”

The King had been “this too will passing” all day and had not had a chance to check the internet.

“Well what is it?” he asked.

“Your majesty the market is through the roof” the advisor answered.

The King barely glanced at his advisor, and answered “This too will pass”. He continued walking to his quarters, realizing it was too late for Golf practice.

“Your Majesty we will continue to monitor the situation” he called after the King, “We are especially interested why airline stocks nose dived while everything else went up!”

When the King arrived at his quarters he was tempted to check his investments, but he knew it was just a case of misinformed mass hysteria related to overpaid analysts who were claiming that the king's inside information could make everybody rich, so he murmured: “This too will pass”, and started looking for his kids.

The King and Queen were a little late that morning and the King only had a chance to watch the local News. He turned it on just in time to see a copy of Feynman’s Email superimposed on the screen.

“You’re a fine one Feynman”, he chuckled.

That day, it was Friday, the trend was back to normal, he was done early and had some time to work on his stroke.

The stock market was back to normal also.

He Emailed Feynman:
Make it this coming Thursday

Feynman responded almost immediately:
If it pleases the King, could we please stick to our original date, I have just ordered new clubs and will not receive them until late next week.
I would very much like to play with these new clubs as a symbol of our renewal of our regular golf dates.

The King wanted to play this Thursday, he already had told his Chief of the Guard to clear his Thursday schedule. He could order Feynman to play with a set of his clubs, but Feynman had helped him so well and he did not want to force his finest advisor into playing against his wishes.

Besides, he was a little afraid to force Feynman into anything.

He called the Royal Captain, and told him to ready the royal yacht for a sail on Thursday with the Queen and kids.

Things went great the next week. Every now and then he had to check himself from “this too will passing” too quickly, but the trend was good and everybody could see that two days per week for petitioners would be more than enough.

The stock market also was doing very well.

On Monday he had told the Royal Captain that the yacht was to be renamed “THIS TOO WILL PASS” by Thursday.

Thursday came and it was a glorious day. The sailing was great, the King was happy, the Queen was happy, the kids were happy.

Big smiles everywhere, the press was thrilled. This was the mother of all photo ops. THIS TOO WILL PASS in gold leaf on the transom, the King driving and waving, the Queen beautiful as a fairy princess, the kids hanging over the rail, the wind, the waves, the varnish, the sails, the sky. Unbelievable.

The next day the News showed nothing but shots of the yacht. Papers had cleared the cover for photos.

All was well in the Kingdom.

The next Thursday came and the King met Feynman at the Royal Clubhouse.

Feynman was carrying a brand new set of clubs.

“Nice clubs” the King said. “Must have set you back a pretty penny, did you have a profitable few weeks?” the King added gruffly.

“I can’t complain your Majesty” Mr. Feynman responded quietly.

“You know” Feynman continued “I could have made a lot more, and so could you, but I did not want things to go too crazy; I mean how much money do you need? I only regret having to stop it by leaking my Email. It shifted the credit for the idea to me, and I did not intend that to happen”

“It was your idea all the same” the King replied “You deserve the credit”
They played a great round of golf.

Feynman had done the King a great service.

The King had learned something and his subjects had learned something. They had learned to distinguish between issues that were important and that were not important, or rather between issues that would pass and that would not pass.

By learning to distinguish between the two, everybody started to manage their time more efficiently and the subjects assumed a much higher level of personal responsibility.

The Kingdom improved by leaps and bounds.

Everybody in the Kingdom lived happily ever after.



This is the fairy tale ending. But in real life there is no happily ever after. Everything changes and continues to change and control of one’s environment means that one has to continually adapt.

A more realistic ending to the fairy tale would go something like this:

Everybody loved the wise and just King and the kingdom was prospering, but on the first day of Feynman’s plan an unfortunate chain of events had started.

The youngest child of the man who had complained about the airport noise, learned to read the television subtitles at age three.

This child developed a taste for reading instead of television and became a great student. He became a great scientist who developed numerous new methods for gene splicing and viral therapies. Unfortunately one of his experiments ran amuck and killed over 90 percent of the Kingdom’s population.

Does this mean the King made a mistake by developing his “This too will pass” rulings? If he would have stuck to the old method he might have decided to reduce the noise around the airport and the child would not have become a scientist and he might have stopped the chain of events that resulted in the death of most of his kingdom.

One could even argue the King was to fault for the disaster. Or not? Government like most of life is chaos. In chaotic behavior one small action can start a whole chain of events that can be beneficial or that can be disastrous. The problem with chaotic behavior is that the outcome is very difficult to predict. Since one event or one person can change the course of history, the presence or the absence of that person can drastically change the outcome of a course of events.

Most of the time we cannot determine whether an action was beneficial or not. Some believe that Reagan ended the cold war by breaking the Soviet Union’s back from an economic point of view. This could be true. However, it can also be argued that if the United States had been more helpful towards the Soviet Union during Reagan’s first term, the Soviet Union might have decided much earlier to end the cold war, and would not have plunged into the deep economic recession that it is still trying to escape.

We just don’t know. What we do know is that doing nothing while things are going into the wrong direction will simply extend the trend. Generally taking action into the correct direction will be beneficial, and sometimes there is a window for taking a certain action that can result in immense benefits.

If we took an action into the correct direction and it turns out it was unsuccessful, we simply have to make a course correction. What this really says is that there is no perfect type of government for all situations and that good government is always a work in progress.


Home

Last Updated: 2/16/05