The Lady or the… A Values Quiz

This is a values quiz.

It’s based on a story.

Here is the story as it was told to me:

A Lady and a Man, very much in love, were separated by a river deep and wide. They longed to be together, but didn’t have a way to get across.

One day a Boatman came by and offered to take the Lady across the river. He could see how much she wanted to go, however, and named a very high price, more than his usual rate. Alas, she didn’t have enough to pay the Boatman, and still couldn’t see a way to get to the Man she loved.

About the same time, a Stranger walked by. He saw the beautiful Lady and offered her a large sum of money in exchange for sex with him. She agreed, and got the money to pay the Boatman and join her lover across the river.

The Man was overjoyed to see his darling, until a Friend told him what she had done to get the money for the Boatman. Then his joy turned to outrage, and he told the Lady he never wanted to see her again. What’s the moral of this story?

It depends on your values.


You can make a case that every character in the story behaved more or less badly. In what order would you put these people, from best behavior (or least bad) to worst behavior?

Really. Take out a pencil and rank them.

Done ranking?


I mentioned this is a values quiz. These are the values assigned to each of our characters:

Lady = LOVE


Boatman = BUSINESS

Stranger = SEX


Next to your written rank order, write in the value assigned to each character.

What was the order in which you ranked these values?

My Ranking

At the high end, I said Stranger, then Boatman. After all, they were just getting what they wanted in pretty straightforward transactions.

Next rung down I put the Lady – a bit of a dope, but she was also going after what she wanted.

Lower down I put the Friend – what business was it of hers to tell the Man about the Lady’s infidelity?

And on the very, very bottom rung, I put the Man. He did nothing to change their plight, and when the Lady took action, all he could do was act priggish in response.

Your Ranking

I feel pretty passionate about my array, and my reasons for putting each character where I did. My ranking seems very right– to me. But you probably feel as strongly for your array and your own reasons.

Try this with a few friends or colleagues. You may be surprised at the way different people think.

What’s It Mean?

We’ve already seen the primary meaning—we are all indignantly and equally sure of the rightness of our own perspectives. Therefore, either most of us are wrong–or there is no unanimity of moral views in the world.

There is another, more speculative meaning: that our rankings roughly correspond to our value systems. And there’s no right or wrong to that.

For my part, yes it does mean I value sex and business over love and morality, especially conventional morality. I know what that means to me. I don’t know what it means to you–nor do you know what it means to me.

Discovering what each means to the other is very much about learning to trust.