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What Shall We Value

Published February 2, 2018

Where are our values?  We live in a highly polarized society.  Should we support one political party or the other?  Should we value big business and wealth over the needs of the poor?  Should our children be pawns who must accept our adult values?  When should we support encouraging our children to develop their own values?   How can we learn to accept values other than our own.  To this end, I offer you a story based on a Russian folktale.

In a kingdom long ago, the son of the Tsar, Tsarévich Evstáfi (Stephen), did not like to go visiting with the nobles and the rich. He did not like to go to the parties and dances of the rich merchants and the wealthy politicians. He disagreed in public with his father about raising taxes in order to add more gold to the royal treasury.

Instead Tsarévich Evstáfi (Stephen) enjoyed walking through the streets of the kingdom talking to the common people. He talked to ordinary laborers, asking them about their jobs and talking about their needs. More, he gave alms (money) to the poor.

“You are MY son,” said the Tsar.   “You are acting below your station. People expect you to act like royalty and not like you are a common man. I ORDER you to go to the next party I host. I FORBID you to walk around with the poor giving help to others. Everyone will lose respect for you.”

But, did the son listen to his father?

NO! The very next party was attended by wealthy landowners from all around the kingdom. Rich merchants with large bank accounts were at the party. Great ship builders who traded with other lands were at the party. Politicians who supported Tsarévich Stephen’s father were at the party. Many of the rich men and their wives had brought their rich daughters in hopes of introducing them to the Tsar’s son. But, who was NOT at the party? The Tsar’s son was absent.

“Where is your son?” asked the Tsar’s guests.

When the Tsar found that his son had again been seen walking in the streets like a commoner, the Tsar was furious! He decided to treat his son like he would treat any other commoner who disobeyed him. The Tsar called his son before the court and ordered him to death.

On the day Tsarévich Stephen was sentenced to the gallows, he fell to his knees in front of his father. The Tsar expected his son to beg for forgiveness and promise to obey him in all things forever more. The Tsar was even ready to forgive his son.   Instead the son begged for three more days before he would face his death. The Tsar granted his wish and watched son run down the steps.

Tsarévich Stephen ram to the home and business of one of his common friends, a craftsman. The Tsar’s son asked the craftsman to make him three chests. One was made of gold. One was made of silver. The third was to be made from the stump of a tree, ordinary wood, with a plain wooden top. Then the chests were to be filled according to the directions given by the Tsar’s son.

On the day he was to die, Tsarévich Stephen stood at the gallows with the three chests. “My Father and my King, before I am to die, I ask you to place a value on these three chests. Without opening them, let your friends tell you which of these chests is worth the most?”


The Tsar and his friends looked at the cases. Together they decided the silver chest must be of great value. They decided the gold chest must be worth even more. The wooden chest must surely have no value at all. “Now open them,” demanded Tsarévich Stephen.

The gold chest was filled with frogs, snakes and spiders crawling around on foul smelling garbage. The silver chest was filled with the same. The Tsar opened the wooden chest. There he saw a tiny branch with sweet smelling fruit from the Tsar’s favorite tree that grew outside the palace windows. There he saw a perfumed veil that his wife has worn on her wedding day with a small painting of his bride on the day he married her. There was a lock of hair that had been cut from his son’s head on the day he was born, sitting on the gown his son had worn on the day of his baptism. Then Tsar’s eyes moved to the bottom of the chest. There he saw a Bible with a bookmark in it.

The Bible opened to allow the Tsar to read, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The Tsar was suddenly ashamed that he had put money ahead of the goodness of his son’s heart. He asked for and received the forgiveness of his son. Both the Father and son sought better understanding of each other from that day forward.