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.

6 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    So, I might suggest an additional exercise:


    After responding to one’s "take" on each of the players (if one chooses to judge), it might be interesting (or not) to consider how I would respond in real time if I were each of those individuals. If I were in their shoes faced with their situations? Then compare how I judged others on the outside looking in and on how I judge my self on the inside looking out. Is there alignment in my judging him/her and how I judge myself in that moment? Is there congruency or incongruency?


    There’s an interesting socio-psychological phenomena that occurs in our everyday behavior when we judge others’ (negative) behavior and when we compare others’ negative behavior against our own in similar situations.
    This dynamic is called the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). In essence, the FAE says:
    We have a tendency to over-emphasize others’ personality ( i.e., their disposition, character, attitude, motives or desires) when we judge or explain their behavior, while discounting their life situation or context as a reason or explanation for their behavior.
    That is, we have an unjustified tendency to judge their actions based on some notion we think we have about the kind of person they are, rather than on the social and environmental forces that are influencing them.
    BUT,BIG BUT, when we behave inappropriately, or negatively, we most often excuse our own behavior as a reaction to our social or environmental circumstances, our situation, NEVER as a function of  our own personality or character. That is, we point to something outside ourselves, or someone else for our negative actions, never ourselves.


    What’s interesting to me in life in general is our individual and collective "need" to judge. I’d like to be able not to judge, but I do. However, in those times when I’m present and "conscious" I can choose to forego judgment. Why? Everyone is in Chapter Three of their life. No one knows what transpired in Chapters One and Two yet we judge as though we know. Not knowing, I have no idea why folks do what they do, even these folks. What would it be like to observe, witness and not judge? Could there be trust anyhow? And, empathy? And, forgiveness?


    When I observe my self I’m often struck by the times I make inferences about what I think is motivating another to act "negatively." – part of my life’s challenge and learning.


    I agree. It’s all based on our personal value system. And, the curiosity is, when we judge, whose values are they, anyway?  Really.  And, how did I come to espouse them?


    Thanks for this post. Very thought-provoking tug on my sleeve.  I’m now headed to visualizing myself in each of those roles and taking a deep look at the "me" who’s operating…and why. Hmmm.


  2. sandy styer
    sandy styer says:



    Thanks for your (always) thought-provoking comments.  Maybe this can be seen not so much as a litmus test of personal values as a way of thinking about the reasons we give for our choices — the emotion underlying the values.  As you suggest, a way to think about how and why we hold these particular values.

    When I can step away from judging I always try to remember that the other person may have "a sick dog in the car" – a memory of a trip to the vet with my ailing and beloved pooch.  I was driving way too carefully and slowly for the drivers behind me, who were honking and flashing their high beams.    And how were they to know that I had a sick dog in the car?

    I’m eager to try your exercise in thinking of myself as  each character in the story.


  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:


    This (didn’t know it was the FAI, then) first came to me many years ago on a subway ride in NYC. It was about 9:00 am and I was headed downtown to NYU. A gentleman with three children was in the same car. To say the least, the three kids were annoying, invasive of others’ space, and all of that. UGH! You could see folks becoming angry, resentful, (silently judgmental?), just lots of negative energy filling the car…it was suffocating.

    They got off the same stop as me and I happened to be right next to the gentleman. I said something to the effect, "Your children seem quite energized this morning." He said ( don’t have total recall) "We’re headed to St. Vincent’s ( a hospital in that vicinity). The children’s mother was diagnosed with cancer some months back and they told us she would die within six months. The kids and I have been devastated. Her doctor called last night and said, miraculously, the cancer stopped spreading and her reports show she has a 90% of moving into remission. The kids heard this and haven’t stopped celebrating since. I know they’re upsetting to just about everyone else right now; but, you know what, I don’t give a s**t."

    I’be been intrigued by the FAI ever since.

    As for "Maybe this can be seen not so much as a litmus test of personal values as a way of thinking about the reasons we give for our choices — the emotion underlying the values," I’m probably misunderstanding your comment, but my take is that values drive emotions, and reasons. So, here too, are my emotions/reasons in alignment with my values or not? And the " they are not" might lead me to a reexamination of my values. Am I sending myself mixed messages? Am I lacking harmony among what I think, feel, say and do –my value and how I act on them?

  4. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Ah, the old virgin/whore dichotomy. We never seem to get past it, do we?

    If I were the <strike>lady</strike>woman in the exercise, I’d knock the creepy stranger over the head, take his money, pay the ferryman, get to the other side, knock the ferryman over his exploitative head, take back the money, have a heart-to-heart with the passive lover who’d been sitting on his butt on the side of the river leaving me to my own devices and judging me at the same time, maybe knock him over the head for good measure, then take the money and head off for a more hospitable community that offered a better caliber of men, more support for independent women, and a whole lot less river crossings, where I’d redesign the exercise so it didn’t hinge on artifical double standards of sexual morality that penalize and marginalize women.

    And, of course, my response to the exercise only serves to demonstrate that it takes me a great deal of effort to behave well in workshops, I don’t deal well with false dichotomies, and I probably shouldn’t be left unsupervised in high-stakes situations while in possession of blunt objects.

    All of that said…I know I’m Mrs. Crankypants today, Sandy, and I hope you’ll forgive me. It is a real pleasure to see you writing on the blog and I hope we’ll see more posts from you in the future!

  5. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

     Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!  Love it, Shaula, but how do you really feel!

     For what it’s worth, I think you and Sandy come out in the same place, but I’ll let her speak to that.  For me, I enjoy the  rare treat of you going all polemic on us!


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