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The Lady Or The Tiger


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I recently learned watching Jeopardy that the short story, “The Lady or the Tiger,” was written in 1882. I hadn’t realized it was that old, no doubt older than anyone here. For anyone who didn’t read this in school, it’s about a hero who is given a choice. I forget why. There are two doors. He is to pick one. Behind one door is a noble lady and wealth. Behind the other is a tiger, who will kill him.


I took this at face value in school, like everything else I was told. I remember the story coming back to me as a young adult, by which time I was no longer taking everything at face value. What if there were tigers behind both doors? What if this was just someone’s perverse approach to execution while dangling out the possibility of reward to the audience? Maybe some more suspicious students thought of this at the time. I don’t remember it coming up. I think we were all pretty trusting at my school.


I forget what I was facing at the time that made me think of that, some routine falseness, I suppose. There’s enough of that in our society for all of us to learn eventually that things aren’t always what they are said to be.


Another aspect of this story came back to me some time later. You know, even if the original premise is true, a 50% chance of being mauled to death is not that great. If everything is set up so that’s really the choice, one might have to hope for luck, but is there a better way? I know one I would try. I’d ask for help in making the choice. I’m not sure when this was, but it was before the modern game shows where people can ask for help. Still if any of the options available in these shows were available, like polling the audience, calling someone smart, whatever, I like that better than dumb luck. Maybe someone knows that most people go to the right, so that’s where they put the tiger the last 10 times.


I’d especially like to get help from someone who knows 100% what’s what, whether that’s the king or some insider. Ah, but by this time I was old enough to be suspicious. Those who know might have orders to lie, making the chances of a good outcome 0% instead of 50%. I can see someone going through these possibilities and deciding to go with dumb luck after all.


But is there a better way? In reality this is where I started my last version of this story, with this Helper instead of guessing about others. What if one can genuinely let God choose? What if one can say a prayer, receive an impression of what to do, and do it? I’d hate to practice that on this situation. Praying about yes-or-no decisions is where it’s easiest to understand wrongly, in my experience. I doubt that God is perfect, but even if He is, I’m certainly not.


I’m curious how many people would trust prayer in this way for a serious decision vs. trusting in their own ability to reason their way through a decision, with whatever they believe will guide them, the Bible, smart people, dumb luck. I bet a majority of conservative Christians trust themselves over God in this way, or conform to whatever their church does. I bet George Bush went to war that way. Either that, or he’s really a rookie at listening to God. Even fewer of my fellow progressives seem the sort to trust God directly. It’s so hard to know about the experiences of others in something like this. I think there’s no substitute to asking God and seeing what happens for oneself. That’s what I decided in coming to pray about all decisions, and trusting whatever answer I got. There is a part of me that wondered about being set up this way for some really big decision down the line, some Twilight Zone version of this process. It’s largely faded. If you can’t trust whoever answers your prayers, whom are you going to trust?


So if I were ever before two doors, praying for direction, and the answer was to back away, that it’s too dangerous to make any choice, then I will back away. I can live happily without the lady, especially if there are really tigers behind both doors.

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I think there’s no substitute to asking God and seeing what happens for oneself. That’s what I decided in coming to pray about all decisions, and trusting whatever answer I got.


I agree. I don't see the harm in it.


If you pray, then make a decision and it WAS God guiding you - then great!


If you pray, then make a decision and it God DIDN'T give any input whatsoever, then you made the descision for yourself (which you would have anyway if you hadn't ever prayed in the first place).

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I believe that the trick of reaching appropriate decisions as you age is to bring your experiences to bear on the process as much as possible. Considering how you acted in similar circumstances, and more importantly REALLY being honest with yourself regarding how you felt about the decision and its fallouts will always give you clues on how to proceed in the present.


The key here is to actively engage your emotional equipment in the present situation and actively compare how you felt about aspects of similar situations in the past. Our memories are most strongly affected and imprinted through emotional reaction to the environment. An important part of our brain, the amygdala is the chief connector of experience, emotion, and memory.


By actively pursuing this systemic approach to decision making one can help slide the odds for positive outcomes to your favor more often as time marches on. But that doesn't mean that you still won't get the tiger sometimes. And sometimes even the noble lady and wealth can serve as a tiger in dealing deadly circumstances.


A proverb I always have appreciated seems to apply here. "The devil is subtle and malicious. G-d is subtle and not malicious."


Making choices and living with the consequences is what living in a universe filled with lots of darkness and comparatively little light is all about; and, it is very difficult, but that is what we all are required to do everyday.


flow.... :)

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IF I recall correctly from 9th grade English the Lady was the daughter of a King or king like person, the man was a commoner. They fell in love against the law. When they were found out this was his punishment. A 50-50 chance. In our English class we had to write the end of the story since the story we read doesn't actually have an end.


Okay, now I'm going to go and look it up for the curious!



Edited by October's Autumn
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