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RESPONSIBILITY READINGS

The Silent Couple
From World Tales, collected by Idries Shah. © 1979 by Technographia, S.A.

A famous Scottish ballad, "The Barring of the Door," is essentially the same tale as that of The Silent Couple, which is one of the world's most widely distributed folktales. It is found in Turkey and Sri Lanka, in Venice and Kashmir, in Arabia and Sicily, and quite possibly in many other places as well. If it came from the East, its route to Scotland is mysterious. If it originates in the West, how it found itself in several distinct Asian cultures is no less intriguing. This is the Arabian version.

Once upon a time there was a newly-married couple; still dressed in their wedding finery, they relaxed in their new home when the last of the guests at their feast had left.

"Dear husband," said the young lady, "do go and close the door to the street, which has been left open."

"Me shut it?" said the groom. "A bridegroom in this splendid costume, with a priceless robe and a dagger studded with jewels? How could I be expected to do such a thing? You must be out of your mind. Go and shut it yourself."

"So!" shouted the bride, "you expect me to be your slave: a gentle, beautiful creature like me, wearing a dress of finest silk—that I should get up on my wedding day and close a door which looks onto the public street? Impossible."

They were both silent for a moment or two, and the lady suggested that they should make the problem the subject of a forfeit. Whoever spoke first, they agreed, should be the one to shut the door.

There were two sofas in the room, and the pair settled themselves, face to face, one on each, sitting mutely looking at one another.

They had been in this posture for two or three hours when a party of thieves came by and noticed that the door was open. The robbers crept into the silent house, which seemed so deserted, and began to load themselves with every portable object of any value which they could find.

The bridal couple heard them come in, but each thought that the other should attend to the matter. Neither of them spoke or moved as the burglars went from room to room, until at length they entered the sitting room and at first failed to notice the utterly motionless couple.

Still the pair sat there, while the thieves collected all the valuables, and even rolled up the carpets under them. Mistaking the idiot and his stubborn wife for wax dummies, they stripped them of their personal jewels—and still the couple said nothing at all.

The thieves made off, and the bride and her groom sat on their sofas throughout the night. Neither would give up.

When daylight came, a policeman on his beat saw the open street door and walked into the house. Going from room to room he finally came upon the pair and asked them what was happening. Neither man nor wife deigned to reply.

The policeman called massive reinforcements and the swarming custodians of the law became more and more enraged at the total silence, which to them seemed obviously a calculated affront.

The officer in charge at last lost his temper and called out to one of his men: "Give that man a blow or two, and get some sense out of him!"

At this the wife could not restrain herself: "Please, kind officers," she cried, "do not strike him—he is my husband!"

"I won!" shouted the fool immediately, "so you have to shut the door!"


Where There's a Will, There's Velleity
From I’m a Stranger Here Myself. © 1936 by Ogden Nash.

Seated one day at the dictionary I was pretty weary and also pretty ill at ease,

Because a word I had always liked turned out not to be a word at all, and suddenly I found myself among the v's.

And suddenly among the v's I came across a new word which was a word called velleity,

So the new word I found was better than the old word I lost, for which I thank my tutelary deity,

Because velleity is a word which gives me great satisfaction,

Because do you know what it means, it means low degree of volition not prompting to action,

And I always knew I had something holding me back but I didn’t know what,

And it’s quite a relief to know it isn’t a conspiracy, it’s only velleity that I’ve got,

Because to be wonderful at everything has always been my ambition,

Yes indeed, I am simply teeming with volition,

So why I never was wonderful at anything was something I couldn’t see

While all the time, of course, my volition was merely volition of a low degree,

Which is the kind of volition that you are better off without it,

Because it puts an idea in your head but doesn’t prompt you to do anything about it.

So you think, it would be nice to be a great pianist but why bother practicing for hours at the keyboard,

Or you would like to be the romantic captain of a romantic ship but can’t find time to study navigation or charts of the ocean or the seaboard;

You want a lot of money but you are not prepared to work for it,

Or a book to read in bed but you do not care to go into the nocturnal cold and murk for it;

And now if you have any such symptoms you can identify your malady with accurate spontaneity:

It's velleity,

So don’t forget to remember that you’re velleitous, and if anybody says you’re just lazy,

Why, they're crazy.