Off the Pulpit: How Serious Is Your Problem?


Years ago I read a brilliant anecdote about George S. Kaufman, prize winning playwright: On the TV show “This Is Show Business” the youthful singer Eddie Fisher complained that girls refuse to date him because of his age. This was Kaufman’s reply:

“Mr. Fisher, on Mt. Wilson there is a telescope that can magnify the most distant stars up to 24 times the magnification of any previous telescope. This remarkable instrument was unsurpassed in the world of astronomy until the construction of the Mount Palomar telescope, an even more remarkable instrument of magnification. Owing to improvements in optical technology, the Mount Palomar telescope is capable of magnifying stars to four times the magnification of the Mount Wilson telescope. Mr. Fisher, if you could somehow put the Mount Wilson telescope inside the Mount Palomar telescope, you still wouldn’t be able to detect my interest in your problem.”

Now and then when I complained of something trivial my grandfather would say “THAT you call a problem?” Part of maturing is calibrating our complaints, learning which are significant and which aren’t.

Of course some problems will disappear as we get older: Fisher eventually married five times, including to Elizabeth Taylor.

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