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I want to be a good person

There was once a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. "I want to be a good person...but I don't always know the best way to do that." So writes Jon J. Muth in a retelling of a story by Leo Tolstoy: The Three Questions.

When is the best time to do things?

Who is the most important one?

What is the right thing to do?

These are important questions. Ones we might ask of ourselves everyday. Ones we might ask of our friends and our neighbors and faith leaders and our politicians. Because this is a picture book for children the little boy asks his friends the animals - a crane, a monkey, and a dog.

 And his friends give him answers based on their own experiences. To know the best time one must plan and pay attention. The most important one is the one closest to heaven or who makes the rules or who heals the sick. The right thing to do is doing what pleases you or benefits your kind. These are the kind of answers we often teach to our children and they are good answers, but they are not perfect ones, because they do not allow our children to be all that they can be nor do they lead us to a better world.

  • We can make the best of plans based on the best of data and yet not solve the world's problems.
  • We can honor those who have strong faith, who are great leaders, and who care for others and still not have world peace.
  • We can search for pleasure and happiness for all and not find true happiness.

The little boy in the story goes to visit his friend the old turtle. The turtle is digging his garden. The boy sees the turtle is tired and helps him finish. A storm comes up and the boy rescues a panda and its baby crying for help. When the boy finally asks his questions the turtle says - "But your questions have been answered!"

The most important time is now.

The most important one is the one you are with.

The most important thing is to do good for the one you are with.

Imagine if everyone in the world followed these three axioms:-  If we lived in the now and forgot past hurts, old bigotry, and old ways of behaving, but did what needed to be done NOW. - If we honored the person with whom we live and work regardless of whether we liked them or not or knew them or not and discovered what they need NOW. If we followed the Golden Rule and did for others, what we wish others would do for us NOW.

That is the path to world peace...

Teach Peace Now
Teach Peace Now

We offer books, activities, lesson plans, and ideas that teachers, parents, and students can use to promote values, attitudes and behaviors which encourage non-violent resolution of conflict, respect for human rights, democracy, intercultural understanding and tolerance.


  1. hsquier says:

    I’ve been using this book as a teaching tool with my kindergarteners for years. Each child gets to take it home to read with their parents, and they fill out a page in a class journal that explains and portrays a time when they answered these three questions. It can be as simple as “I fed my dog,” or “I helped my mom wash the dishes.” Others have written about playing with a child who was alone on the playground. Then they answer the questions: Who was the most important one in this situation? What was the right thing to do? When is the right time to do it? So simple, but the carry over is tremendous. The students start asking and answering these questions during other read alkyds and daily situations. One of my all time favorites! Jon Muth’s “Zen Shorts” is another good one, containing short stories and scenarios to help us in daily choice living. The story of the two monks is one I refer to often! This book may be better for intermediate grades, however. Jon Muth is also the illustrator of “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth,” a MUST READ!

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