Why the right question matters
- By: Ed Peters
- Oct 20, 2019
Ancient stories still speak to us and make us think, even in our technical, sophisticated world of today.
Parzival was written early in the 13th century and is a classic of German Literature. The young would-be knight Parzival has the chance to become a Knight of the Holy Grail, something very, very few young people ever get to be. It's the ultimate honour.
He finds hiself at a great feast for the knights in the Grail Castle. Parzival is struck by the fact that the feast is far from the glorious party he expected; in fact, the atmosphere is one of great heaviness and sadness. He notices that the host of the feast is afflicted with a terrible wound that seems not to want to heal, and he is clearly in great pain.
As a young man anxious to make a good impression and not to make a fool of himself, he decides not to mention the suffering he has witnessed. When he wakes the next morning, he is out in the forest on his own, with no sign of the castle or any of the company of the Grail. He has effectively been thrown out and his big chance seems to have gone forever.
That should be the end of the story, for no one ever gets a second shot at the Holy Grail. But Parzival comes to see that he made a mistake, and the rest of the saga tells about how he does earn the chance to be considered again.
His mistake? When he saw such suffering at the feast, he felt too embarrassed to ask "why are you in such pain?" In other words, he fails to show compassion and therefore is not yet worthy to be considered a knight. Had he asked the question, the pain and sadness would all have been healed immediately.
Compassion is a tough skill to use and it takes tough people to show real compassion.But it can make a real difference.
And a story from around 1200 still reminds us there was much more to being a knight than just fighting.