Do the Math


Submitted by Robin Poulton – TRANSCEND Media Service




A father left 17 camels as inheritance for his three sons.  When he passed away, his sons read the will.

The will stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels; the middle son should be given 1/3rd, and the youngest son 1/9th of the 17 camels.

As it is not possible to divide 17 by half, by 3, or by 9, the sons started fighting and arguing with each other. They decided to consult a wise man.

The wise man listened patiently about the will. After giving it a thought, he added one camel of his own to the other 17. That increased the total to 18 camels. And he proceeded to fulfill the deceased father’s will as such:

Half of 18 = 9. Therefore, he gave 9 camels to the eldest son.

1/3rd of 18 = 6. So, he gave 6 camels to the middle son.

1/9th of 18 = 2. He gave 2 camels to the youngest son.

Now add this up: 9 + 6 + 2 = 17, leaving 1 camel out, which the wise man took back.

MORAL: The trick for negotiation or problem solving is to find the 18th camel, i.e., the common ground, transcending solution. Once a person finds it, the issue is resolved. To reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution. If we think that there is no solution, we will not be able to reach one.


Robin Edward Poulton, Ph.D. is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and has been a consultant-advisor to the UN, EU and numerous governments. He is a sometime faculty member of the European Peace University (Austria) and Virginia Commonwealth University (USA), and Senior Fellow of UNIDIR Geneva (United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research). He is Managing Partner of EPES Mandala Consulting.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Nov 2018.

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3 Responses to “Do the Math”

  1. Werner T. Meyer says:

    Johan Galtung also includes the professional lawyers solution:

    Once upon a time a lawyer was on his way in a fancy car thru the desert. Arrived to a oasis, he saw three men, standing there crying. He stopped his car and asked: “What’s the matter?”. And they answered: “Our father has died, and we loved him so much.” . “But – said the lawyer – I’m sure he had made a will. Maybe I can help you, for a fee, of course.”.
    The three men answered: “He did so, actually he left some camels as a legacy. His will is that the eldest son will have a 1/2 of the legacy, the second a 1/3, and a 1/6 to the youngest. We love camels and we agree with our father’s will. But there’s a problem: he left 17 camels, and, having been t oschool, we know that 17 is a prime number. Loving camels, we cannot tear them apart.
    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 five camels to his car, and the last thing the three brothers saw was a vast cloud of dust, covering the evening sun.
    Two ways of handling conflicts. The choice is yours.

    Extract from “Conflict Transformation By Peaceful Means (The TRANSCEND METHOD)”, participants’/trainers’ manual,
    by Johan Galtung, director of TRANSCEND, a peace and development network (qui il sito),
    for the United Nations Disaster Management program.

    Werner T. Meyer

  2. Naresh Jotwani says:

    From the original post and the comment by Werner Meyer, it follows right away that the world needs more wise persons — and fewer lawyers! 😄