“Remember that there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.” — Leo Tolstoy, The Emperor’s Three Questions
Tolstoy’s story resonates because it’s timeless. Consider: What is the best time to do each thing? Now, because we are not timeless ourselves. Who are the most important people to work with? The person we’re with in this moment, because there is no guarantee that the person we are interacting with is not the very last person we’ll ever interact with. What is the most important thing to do at all times? The most essential thing we can do in our brief dance together is to find happiness right here and now.
I am an active practitioner of the three questions because of how I was raised, not because I sought the advice of Tolstoy, but his philosophy resonates because of the universal truth in the words. Shouldn’t we be present in this moment, with full attention directed towards the person we’re with, with the sincere objective of making the moment joyful for both parties?
Consider the most recent interaction you had with a stranger. Say, the person who served you breakfast the last time you went out for it. Do you treat that person as a servant or as a fellow traveler on this trip around the sun? If the roles were reversed, how would you expect to be treated by them? Shouldn’t the golden rule apply in every such situation?
The thing is, I have people in my life who roll their eyes when I engage in conversation with random strangers—there he goes again. But the point of each of these engagements is to acknowledge that we’re all in the same orbit at the same moment. We may never pass this way again. In most cases, the chances are extremely high that we won’t. So we ought to make the most of that moment.
We know the world is full of angry people. I often get spun up at the unfairness in the world, and the sheer cruelty of some people who don’t see the worth in anyone but themselves. We all witness bad behavior that is the antithesis of the golden rule. But we don’t have to swim in that sea of misery ourselves. Why splash around where so many have drowned?
Here’s the thing: We all want to live a fulfilling and joyful life. To be actively engaged in living is to be in the game in every moment, not just a few chosen highlights. So embrace the opportunity to be fully alive now, whatever now brings to you. The thing about those nows is that they tend to string together into a pretty amazing life.