conflict, camels and some surprising maths

camelMy last post “when maths doesn’t add up” reminded me of a thought-provoker suggested by the legendary Johann Galtung in his brilliant Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means about a mullah and some camels…

Once upon a time, a mullah on his camel was on his way across the desert on his way to Mecca. Coming to an oasis, he saw 3 men standing crying. So he stopped and asked, “My children, what is the matter?”

And they answered, “Our father just passed away and we loved him so much.”

“But,” said the mullah, “I am sure he loved you too, and no doubt he has left something behind for you?”

“Yes” they answered, “indeed he has. He left behind camels and in his will it is stated, ½ to the eldest, 1/3 to the middle and 1/9 to the youngest, but there is a problem. He left behind 17 camels. We love camels and we agree with the parts to go to each but we have been to school and we know that 17 is a prime number. Loving camels, we cannot divide them.”

The mullah thought for a while and he said, “I give you my camel. Now you have 18.”

“No,” they cried. “You are on your way to somewhere important. You cannot give us your camel.”

The mullah interrupted them, “Go ahead, my sons. Take my camel.”

So they divided the 18 camels by 2 and the first son got 9; then 18 by 3 and the next son got 6 and the 18 by 9 and the youngest got 2.

9 + 6 + 2 = a total of 17 camels and the mullah’s camel was left standing alone. The mullah said, “Are you happy? Then may I have my camel back.”

And the 3 men, full of gratitude, said, “of course,” not quite understanding what had just happened.

The mullah blessed them, got on his camel and rode off and the last they saw was a small cloud of dust as he rode towards the setting sun.

There is a second part to this story, designed to show that there are different ways to deal with human conflict…

Once upon a time a lawyer was on his way in his fancy car across the desert. Passing an oasis, he saw three men standing crying. So he stopped the car and asked, “What’s the matter?”

And they answered, “Our father just passed away and we loved him so much.”

“But,” said the lawyer, “I am sure he has made a will? Maybe I can help you…for a fee, of course.”

The three men said, “Yes, indeed he did. He left behind camels. And in his will it is stated ½ to the eldest son, 1/3 to the second and 1/6 to the youngest, but there is a problem. He left behind 17 camels. We love camels and we agree with the parts to go to each, but we have been to school and we know that 17 is a prime number. Loving camels, we cannot divide them.”

The lawyer thought for a while and then said, “Very simple. You give me 5 camels then you have 12. You divide by 2, 3 and 6 and you get 6, 4 and 2 camels respectively.”

And so they did. The lawyer tied the 5 unhappy camels to the car, and the last they saw was a vast cloud of dust, as the lawyer drove away, covering the evening sun.

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~ by Garry on May 9, 2009.

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