This is the second in a three-part series on Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “The Three Questions.”
When is the right time? (Last week we learned that the answer is “now”)
Who are the right (or most important) people?
What is the most important thing to do?
So, he invited all the learned men in his kingdom to come and answer the questions. But they all answered the questions differently. For this second question of “Who is the most important person?” some said the King’s most important people were his counselors, some said the priests, some said doctors and others said the warriors. The king didn’t buy into any of their answers.
In this day and age, we don’t call for the learned men, we Google it. So, I googled this question… who is the most important person? Interestingly enough, Google equated “powerful” and “famous” with “important.” Here is a sampling of Google’s answers:
- Presidents and heads of state
- CEOs of companies
- Famous writers, inventors and artists such as Shakespeare, Edison, and Da Vinci
- Very few women but among them were Oprah, Melinda Gates and Marilyn Monroe
- Spiritual leaders (mostly dead): Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope Francis
- Musicians: Michael Jackson
- YOU (memes)
But the All-Knowing Google did not answer the question correctly (according to Tolstoy). At the end of the story the king learns from the old hermit living in the woods that the most important person is the person you are with.
(For the full video version, click here.)
When I thought about this question in terms of scripture, I immediately thought of the way Jesus engaged with and addressed people. For Jesus, there was no one person who was better, or more important than anyone else. We can see it in the stories of his interactions. He doesn’t turn people away when they come to him for help, even if they are diseased, or considered unclean by Jewish law (ie – women). He gave them his undivided attention and compassion.
Mark 10:17-21 is one example. A person Jesus doesn’t even know comes running up to him and asks a question. Jesus gives him his full attention and looks at him“with love.” There are many other examples where Jesus gives his full, loving, compassionate, attention to someone coming to him in need, including the woman at the well, Nicodemus, Martha after Lazarus dies, the woman caught int he act of adultery, the Roman Centurion, the blind man, the lame man, the bleeding woman, and the children. Each one, for that brief encounter, was the most important person to Jesus.
Mother Teresa says it very simply in her advice to the group of teachers. “Smile at one another. Smile at your wives.” It is a deliberate act of meeting someone’s eye and offering a smile of kindness and friendliness. For that second you’ve put that person on the top of your list and given them your attention, maybe even lifted their spirits with a simple smile.
Here’s a wonderful story I came across that emphasizes how important each person is:
Mary was in the second month of nursing school, when one day the professor gave the class a pop quiz. Now, she was a conscientious student and breezed through the quiz until she got to the last question: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”
Surely this was some kind of joke. She had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would she know her name? Mary left the question blank.
Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward the quiz grade.
“Absolutely,” said the professor. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’.”
Mary never forgot that lesson… and she learned that the woman’s name was Dorothy.
We get caught up in our own lives, our own thoughts, our own moods, and we often are too distracted to give our full attention to the people we are with, much less the people we pass in the grocery store, or in the hallway at work. But, once again, the spiritual path insists that we recognize that we are all connected and that all people are important. But the most important person to you at any moment is the one you are with… give them your attention, your respect, your smile. Shine your light on them, even if it is only for a few seconds passing in a hallway.
Love & Light!