Ivan the Fool

From Russian folklore.

Ivan the Fool

Little Ivan was the youngest of three brothers. He was trusting, good-natured, easygoing and simple. His brothers were the brave Simon the Soldier and the shrewd Taras the Merchant. Because of his naivety and innocence, Ivan was also known as Ivan the Fool.

Simon the Soldier went off to war. He fought valiantly and rose through the ranks in the Czar's army. In time, he married a noblewoman and was granted an estate. Taras the Merchant was astute and this made him successful in business. In time, he married a wealthy merchant's daughter and lived a comfortable life.

Ivan stayed behind in his father's house and worked his father's lands. The father was a rich peasant and owned much property. One day, the two elder sons returned home and, due to various circumstances, pleaded their father for a share of his wealth.

“My property is managed to a fare-thee-well by the efforts of Ivan,” the father said. “I can't just give it all to you. You must ask for Ivan's blessings.”

When his brothers turned to him, Ivan had nothing but goodwill and divided up—with permission—his father's wealth into equal parts. He gladly shared it with his brothers.

As time passed, Simon's valiance became vanity and Taras's shrewdness gave way to greed. Simon began waging pointless, glory-seeking wars and lost badly. His estates were seized by the Czar and he escaped to his father's lands to seek refuge with Ivan. Taras's insatiable greed landed him in debt and cost him his business. He, too, escaped to his father's property and sought Ivan's assistance.

Ivan—without a thought—welcomed his brothers. He even personally built a new, bigger house for them all to live in. Ivan was happy to supported his brothers despite their shortcomings.

Now the Devil—who had a hand in Simon's and Taras's downfall—saw the merriness in this household and was displeased, so he cursed Ivan with ill health. But Ivan, by chance, discovered one of the Devil's henchmen and decided to punish the mischievous creature. The frightened little imp pleaded for its life and—in exchange for letting it go—offered Ivan an all-curing herb that cured Ivan's illness immediately.

The little henchman also mustered an army for Ivan and procured him much wealth. Ivan—recognizing his brothers' respective talents—put his brother Simon in charge of the army to help him win back the Czar's favour and entrusted the wealth to Taras who was able to start a new business.

One day, the Czar's dearly beloved daughter fell gravely ill. No matter what the royal doctors did, she would not recover. Desperate, the Czar offered to give his kingdom and the princess's hand in marriage to any man capable of curing her. This was when Ivan remembered the all-curing herb he'd obtained. He gave it to the princess, who rallied immediately. For this, Ivan was rewarded with the Czar's kingdom and marriage to the princess.

In the end, Ivan the Fool turned out to be no fool at all. He was simply good-natured, sincere and easygoing. And it was precisely this simple, generous and innocent approach to life that ultimately led Ivan to his good fortune and happy life.


Notes

We are used to the idea that caution, careful consideration and calculation are helpful traits—and oftentimes they very much are! We admire intelligent, successful and driven people—and there's nothing wrong with that. But just keep in mind that we are also very much prone to over-thinking things in an unhelpful manner. This very often leads to crippling anxiety, depression and a sense of fatalism.

As Seneca puts it, “we suffer more from our imagination than from reality.” Obviously, the Stoics don't advise mindless self-indulgence, either. It's up to each of us to find a healthy balance between the two extremes for ourselves. Sometimes—like Ivan in the story—all we need to do is to relax, flow and allow the things outside our control to fall where they naturally do. As the Stoics said, amor fati—“love fate.”