Three Questions: A Story About Life in the Present

The story about the value of the present tells you that, sometimes, you're looking for answers in a fantasy world, but you can find them in your daily activities, using common sense.
Three Questions: A Story About Life in the Present

Last update: 08 March, 2021

Leo Tolstoy wrote this story about life in the present. It tells the story of a faraway empire where a King wanted to rule his people with justice and wisdom. He didn’t have experience in this and believed it best to ask the sages about essential matters.

He kept thinking for a long time, until he came up with the three questions that were relevant for all his royal duties. These questions were:

  • When’s the best time to begin anything?
  • Who’s the essential person to do a job?
  • What’s the most important thing at any given time?

He did an edict with these three questions. The person that could answer all three questions would get a big reward. This story about life in the present tells that many were trying to give the right answers.

“I go dreaming into the future, where I see nothing, nothing.”

-Gustave Flaubert-

A man walking on the beach by himself.

The first answers to the three questions

The palace people had a lot of work. People from all places got to the palace and wanted to answer the three questions and win the reward. The King listened and sent them away, one by one. He didn’t like what they had to say.

Some people talked about the importance of making plans. Others talked about the importance of creating a council for him. Also, someone recommended surrounding himself with wizards.

Finally, one of the palace servants spoke to the King. He said that he heard of a hermit that lived in the mountains and many thought he was very wise. However, he only talked to the poor and ignored the rich.

Visiting the hermit

The King dressed as a farmer and went to the mountains with an entourage. Before he got to the hermit’s home, he asked his men to wait for him, hiding in the brushes. He got to the wise man and saw he was very old. Still, he was working the land.

Without hesitating, he greeted him and asked him the three questions. The old man didn’t say anything. He kept working the land, although he looked very tired. The King felt compassion and offered his help. Although he wasn’t used to it, he did the task.

At night, when he was tired, he asked the old man the three questions again, but the old man didn’t say anything. Suddenly, there came a man from the bushes and he could barely hold himself. The man felt between the hermit and the King. The King helped the man to the hermit’s house.

A man wondering if he's being logical and consistent.

A big surprise

The hermit and the King helped the man during the night. They stopped the bleeding and the King fell asleep. When he woke up, he didn’t know why but he felt really well. By his side was the wounded man, with tears in his eyes.

According to this tale, the wounded man was one of his worst enemies. He found out the King would be going alone to the hermit’s house and hid in the bushes to surprise and kill him.

However, the King’s men caught him and hurt him. Running away from them, he got to the hermit’s house. The man was weeping because it had been the King, his enemy, the one that saved his life. He promised to be loyal forever.

The moral of a story about life in the present

The King felt very pleased by this, a reconciliation he hadn’t been looking for. He forgave the man and promised to give him some land for himself and his family.

He thought the hermit wouldn’t answer his questions and was getting ready to go. However, when it was time to say goodbye, the hermit told him: “All of your questions have been answered”. The King was confused.

One hand helping another.

Then, the hermit explained everything to him. To the question “When’s the best time to begin anything?”, the King answered with his actions. “The best time to begin anything is now, when it’s needed“. To the questions “Who’s the essential person to do a job?”, the King had done it too: “Oneself“.

Finally, to the question “What’s the most important thing at any given time?”, the King himself had answered it with his actions. “Helping others and making them happy“. The King understood and went back to his palace, using the answers he found.

It might interest you...
7 Wonderful Sayings from Emil Cioran
Exploring your mindRead it in Exploring your mind
7 Wonderful Sayings from Emil Cioran

What we see in the sayings of Emil Cioran is a sense of disillusionment which also contain a fine sense of humor. Read on and discover them.



  • Mahler, P. (1996). El valor del presente histórico en narrativas infantiles; orales y escritas. Estudios de Lingüística Aplicada, (23).