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The Parable of the Thin King

In this curious parable, Charles Fischer explores five different kinds of thinking (referencing, reasoning, pondering, dwelling, and contemplating), and how they each might work to solve the problem of the king's health. Reference, for example, delivered a possible solution in a single day, while Ponder needed more time, and Contemplate needed more than two weeks. In the end, though, The Queen doesn't limit herself to any one of the types of thinking. As you read, consider what names she might have in this parable.


There once was a king of a vast empire. His name was Enlighten, but many knew him as the Thin King because he was so very skinny. “Thin as a beanpole,” the farmers said. “Slender as a reed,” the hunters said. “Skinny as a sapling,” others said.

The problem was that no matter what the king did, he kept getting thinner.

And thinner.

And thinner. Until he was nearly just a slip of paper on the throne.

The Queen, who was known for her shrewdness and excellent judgment, called her advisors together to ask them to search far and wide for the wisest people in the land to solve the problem. Her advisors sent out scouts and heralds and several days later they returned with five wise sages. Their names were Reference, Reason, Ponder, Dwelling, and Contemplate.

After their introductions in the Great Hall, the Queen announced to the five sages that whoever came up with the best solution to the king’s waning health would be duly rewarded with gold and jewels.

The five sages left the Great Hall and each set about to solve the dilemma.

After one day, Reference returned to the Great Hall carrying a large stack of books. “Oh, Mighty Queen,” Reference said, “I have searched and scoured the library and, knowing that speed is of the essence, I have marked all of the appropriate pages that could be useful in this situation.”

“I thank you for your speed, Reference. Our healers shall get to work immediately. I shall wait and see the other possibilities before making a decision.”

Reference bowed and left the hall.

At the end of the second day, Reason entered the Great Hall carrying a tumble of scrolls. “Your Majesty,” Reason said bowing, “I have analyzed these scrolls and made a number of calculations and charts. I believe I have determined a solution to the king’s health.”

The Queen nodded. “Thank you, Reason, for your many diagrams and charts. The healers shall get started on their implications. I shall weigh their merit against the other solutions once the other sages arrive.”

Reason bowed and left the hall.

At the end of the fourth day, Ponder strolled into the Great Hall. “Your Majesty, I have spent these days wandering the city and wondering about a solution. I collected many thoughts along the way, until finally, one stood out from the others.” Ponder handed one of the guards a small notebook.

The Queen took the notebook from the guard and looked through the pages. “Thank you, Ponder, for your solution. I believe the healers will be able to make use of this idea. However, I shall wait for the last two sages before making a decision.”

Ponder turned and ambled out of the Great Hall.

After eight days, Dwelling stood before the Queen. “Your Majesty,” Dwelling said, “here is my solution to the king’s declining health. I’m sure you will find it useful.” Dwelling handed one of the guards a small collection of papers.

The Queen took the papers and looked through them. “We thank you for your excellent service, Dwelling. This indeed looks promising.” She handed the papers to one of the healers and then turned back. “But please inform me, what took you so long?”

“My apologies, Your Majesty! Knowing the seriousness of the situation, I wanted to mull over a great many things in peace and quiet. I traveled out of the city until I found a cave where I could meditate upon the complexities of the king’s condition. I spent several days in silence and stillness until a solution made itself known to me.”

“Thank you, Dwelling. I shall give my answer once Contemplate has delivered the last solution.”

After sixteen days, Contemplate strode into the Great Hall. “Your Majesty,” Contemplate said, “Here is the best solution for the king’s condition.” Contemplate handed a guard a small piece of paper.

The Queen took the paper and examined it. “Indeed, this looks very promising,” she said handing the paper to the Master Healer. “I must know though, Contemplate, with the king’s condition so dire, why did you take so long? Without the aid of the other sages, His Grace would likely have perished!”

Contemplate bowed deeply. “Your Eminence, my humblest apologies. My practice is complex and I have cultivated an extensive process over the years. Though long and thorough, I find the time to be most valuable. I left the city in search of questions. After many days of consideration, I eliminated all but one. I deliberated on this question from many angles and lines and inclinations using a special template I developed. With enough time, a clear solution shook itself free from the web.”

“Thank you, Contemplate. Your solution for the king’s health appears to be most promising, but I shall announce the winner once we have tried your solution.”

Contemplate bowed and left the Great Hall.

Several days later, the Queen summoned the five sages back to the Great Hall for her announcement. “I am sorry to tell you that the healers have done their best, but each of the solutions has only delayed the king’s condition.”

She turned to the first sage. “Reference, your speed was much appreciated. However, the ideas you presented were old and stale. The healers had already tried all of them, though some slight variations were new and useful. For that we thank you.”

Reference bowed in disappointment.

She turned to the second. “Reason, your evidence was sound and your charts and diagrams were useful. However, your conclusions seemed hasty and the healers struggled to apply some of your ideas to the present situation. Still, we managed to stabilize His Majesty for several days. For that we thank you.”

Reason bowed in disappointment.

She turned to the third sage. “Ponder, your collection of ideas presented many potential solutions and several of them provided the king with some vitality and strength. However, the results were fleeting and somewhat unstable. Still, some progress was made in His Eminence’s condition and for that the kingdom is thankful.”

Ponder bowed in disappointment.

The Queen turned to the last two sages. “Dwelling, your solutions and Contemplate, your solution, were novel and marvelous, fresh and exciting, and yielded spectacular results. Leaving the city proved most beneficial to the two of you and the healers nearly had a cure for the king’s ailment. It saddens me a great deal to announce that the king is once again declining, so there are no victors here.”

Dwelling and Contemplate bowed their heads in disappointment as well. The five sages were about to turn and walk out of the hall when the Queen spoke again.

“However, in seeing what each of you contributed, I have had a revelation. I am proposing something altogether different, an opportunity for each of you to still earn the promised gold and jewels.”

The five sages picked their heads up.

The Queen continued. “We shall work together toward a solution.”

“What!” they exclaimed. “That’s impossible! We can’t work together. We have different ways and means and—”

The Queen held up her hand. “We shall work together, this I decree. In addition, the court jester shall be joining us. We seven shall work in association, your wisdom, loosened by the jester’s humor and wit, and fused together through my discernment.”

Even the jester seemed surprised by the pronouncement, but all could see that the Queen was most serious and determined.

They spent nearly a day forming up as a team, trying to understand how they were all going to contribute to the process. Then there was a day where they found themselves arguing and finding their way with each other’s styles and manners. When things got strained, the jester offered jokes and stories to lighten the mood, and when they got too dispersed, the Queen brought them back into alignment.

After the third day, they felt dynamic and vibrant. The more energy they put into the process, the more they got out of it. Reference helped to find the precise information, and Reason assisted in making those facts live. Ponder walked around adding questions and ideas into the mix, while Dwelling stayed mostly silent except for the occasional insight. Meanwhile, Contemplate absorbed everything, augmented ideas and refined questions.

And so it was, that in less than a week, they found a permanent solution to the king’s problem.


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