By Tim Porteus

FROM every corner of the world there is a story tradition. Scotland, of course, is no less rich than other lands and I love telling traditional Scottish stories.

But this week, while I was on my exercise walk in lovely sunny weather, a tale from the Middle East popped into my head.

I was enjoying the spectacle of the Greenhills in my home town of Prestonpans being covered in wildflowers when I met an old friend who was out walking as well.

We paused for a few moments. It seemed foolish not to talk, although we understood we needed to keep our distance from each other. And so we had a chat.

I asked how he was coping, and the conversation led to discussing how having all this enforced time has made us slow down, but that this has also meant, for my friend, more time to think and reflect.

“I think I have been over thinking these last few days” he said, “reflecting on my life and, well you know, I’m trying to keep positive, but, you know.”

I could feel that the lockdown was taking its toll on him, and it was at this moment that the story entered my head.

It’s was a Nasreddin tale. There are literally hundreds of stories from this tradition, often quite short, but almost always conveying some moral or life lesson.

Different parts of the Middle East claim this heritage, but here isn’t the place to go into that.

The stories, many over 700 years old, have a timeless and universal truth within them.

And there on the Greenhills, with both sunshine and a slightly nippy wind in our faces I told him the story:

The great and wise Nasreddin was sitting in a market place relaxing, when a man approached him.

“It’s you isn’t it, the great Nasreddin, the wisest man in the land?”

Nasreddin smiled and nodded, feeling in equal measure both flattered and awkward at the man’s wholesome praise.

The man then clasped his hands together and bowed respectfully. “Please may I ask you a question?” he begged.

Well Nasreddin had hoped to have an anonymous quiet time to himself, but also he did not want to tell this man to go away or refuse his request.

This was not in his nature. So Nasreddin nodded his head and said “of course”.

The man smiled and asked his question.

“Please, can you tell me, what is the secret to a happy and successful life?”

Nasreddin raised an eyebrow. This was quite a question. He thought for a moment, stroking his long slender beard, looking up to the sky. Then he nodded and smiled.

He looked at the man and gave him the answer; “good judgement”.

The man raised his hands into the air.

“Of course, of course,” he said, “thank you so much Nasreddin, you are surely the wisest man in the land.”

The man bowed in respect and began to leave. But he paused, then turned round and walked back to Nasreddin

“I am sorry to trouble you again,” said the man, “but could I ask you one more question”.

Nasreddin smiled and nodded.

The man clasped his hands once again as he asked his second question: “How can I acquire good judgement?”

Once again Nasreddin thought while stroking his beard and looking up to the sky. A smile came onto his face.

He looked at the man and gave him the answer; “experience”.

The man slapped his own forehead.

“Ah yes, of course, experience!”

The man was really happy.

“Thank you so much,” he said to Nasreddin, and again began to leave.

But he had not gone far when, once again he paused, turned round and nervously walked back to Nasreddin.

“I pray for your indulgence,” said the man, afraid he may be testing Nasreddin’s patience, “but may I ask you just one final question.”

Nasreddin agreed. “Very well, one final question”.

The man smiled with relief, then asked: “How do I gain this experience?”

As before, Nasreddin thought for a moment, while stroking his beard and looking up at the sky. Then he looked at the man and smiled, and gave him the answer: “Bad judgement”.

My friend laughed, as I hoped he would. It was a lovely moment in which an ancient tale from another land spoke wisdom across cultures and time.

“I’m goanie check this guy out,” said my friend.

“You should use that,” he said as he parted.

“Aye, maybe I will” I said.

I continued my walk, to the concrete blocks by the sea, where, when I was a child, I used to explore and sit and wonder how my life would pan out.

Seems impossible that was over 40 years ago now.

The image of Cockenzie Power Station which had so dominated that area, and under whose shadow I had spent part of my childhood, was still with me, even though it is now gone.

I hoped that wisdom would prevail in the decisions on how best to replace it, putting community first.

Nasreddin’s tale, I hoped, held true for politicians as well. The question is how much bad judgement is needed to reach good judgement.

My kids and wife joined me as I was reflecting. We had arranged to meet each other here by going different ways round the hill; kind of a fun adventure for them.

“What you thinking about dad?” was my daughter’s question.

“Och, just life,” I said.

My daughter looked at me disapprovingly. “But you said you wanted some time to think about a story to write?”

I smiled and looked at her, and said: “Well, I think I have one now”.


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