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From Doubts to Actions

There is famous statement by René Descartes usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I am." It is short version of his saying "I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am." The philosopher explained his idea: "We cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt."

So, this statement is about thinking. Nowadays it's well-known fact that our brain produces thoughts constantly. But what is the quality of our thoughts?

Let me share with you one oriental story about the importance of the way of thinking.

A certain sultan was on a ship with his best servant. This servant was a child of the mountains; he had never seen the sea. He was the energetic young man. But during a voyage he sat in the empty belly of the ship and screamed, cried, trembled, and wept. He was afraid of the deep water. All were kind to him and tried to calm his fear, but their kindness reached only his ears and not his fearful heart.

A sultan could hardly bear to hear the servant's cries any more, and the voyage through blue waters under the clear blue sky was no longer a pleasure for him. Then wise Hakim, the physician, approached him and said, "Your Highness, with your permission, I can calm him down!"

Without a moment's hesitation, a sultan gave his permission. Hakim ordered the seamen to throw the servant overboard. They did, only too gladly. The servant thrashed about in the water, grabbed for air, clutched the side of the ship, and begged to be taken on board again. So the seamen pulled him out of the water by the hair, and from then on he sat very quietly in a corner. No one heard another word of fear from him. A sultan was amazed and asked Hakim, "What was the wisdom in such an action?"

Hakim answered, "He had never tasted the salt of the sea, and he did not know how great the danger was in the water. So he could not know how wonderful it is to have the sturdy planks of the ship under him. Only he who has faced danger can know the value of peace and composure!

You can eat all possible delicious dishes but don't know the taste of simple peasant bread. The girl that you can call not pretty is my beloved one. There is the difference between the man who has beloved one and the man who expects her emergence."

I took this story from the book of German psychologist Nossrat Peseschkian. He was born and raised in Iran. It was distinctive feature of his books: Peseschkian used Eastern fables, parables, myths as tools in psychotherapy. He explained them in terms of psychological matter. This story he explained in the chapter on fear. I would like to add some comments.

Hakim as a wise man could advise to throw a servant out of the board if he was sure that a servant could survive. If the servant was thrown out because his screaming only, the next order would be sultan's order to throw Hakim overboard. Hakim knew that fear made a servant weak and killed his optimism. A servant was afraid and despaired. He was alive but could not think and act. He needed a tool stronger than fear and despair. It was hope. Hakim gave it to him. A servant could not swim. Then he was thrown into the water his only hope to stay alive was related to the ship. His physical survival brought him to life spiritually. As you see, hope is the antidote of fear. In this regard, it would be fair to cite Baruch Spinoza: "Fear cannot be without hope nor hope without fear."

A sultan had another scenario. He hoped to meet beautiful woman. But he lived in daydreams. A sultan didn't think in terms of real solutions and actions. He was full of doubts how to make right choice. He needed courage to make a decision.

History doesn't record the fate of this sultan. I hope that he found a woman, got married and became happy rather than a philosopher. But I doubt. Why? Do you remember the song from Soviet blockbuster "Kidnapping, Caucasian Style"? Three heroes sang this song: "If I were a sultan I would have three wives." It was the first line in this song. The final lines were: "If I would be a sultan - I would be single! That's very good to be unmarried, much better in every sense!"

Thus, it may be concluded that sultans are hopeless in the situation when the decision should be made. Insted of putting the hope into action, they doubt.

I started my talk with the quote by René Descartes. I would like to end my talk by paraphrasing this statement into "I doubt, therefore I hope, therefore I think, therefore I act."