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Damn Doors

Damn Doors

Opening the Right One

Here's a tale that challenges anyone's decision-making abilities. What would you choose?

The Lady or the Tiger?

A "semi-barbaric" king of an ancient land used a unique form of trial by ordeal for those in his realm accused of crimes significant enough to interest him. As throngs of the king's subjects gazed from the stands, the accused stands alone in an arena before two curtain-draped doors, Behind one door is a woman appropriate to the accused's status and approved for him by the king; behind the other is a fierce (and nearly starved...hungry) tiger. The accused then must choose a door. If by luck (or, if one prefers, the will of heaven) he picks the door with the woman behind it, he is declared innocent and set free, but he must marry the woman immediately, regardless of his wishes or his marital status. If he picks the door with the tiger behind it, the hungry beast immediately pounces upon him and devours the accused -- obviously his guilt has been exposed and justice served.

When the king discovers that his daughter, the princess, has taken a lover far beneath her status, he becomes a candidate for trial in the arena. On the day of his ordeal, the lover looks from the arena to the princess, watching from the stands, for some indication of which door to pick. Even the king doesn't know which door hides the maiden, but the princess has made it her business to find out, as her lover knew she would. She makes a slight but definite head nod to the right, which the young man follows immediately and without hesitation. As the door opens, the author interjects, "Now, the point of the story is this: 

Did the tiger come out of that door or did the woman?"

The author then playfully sets out for the reader the dimensions of the princess's dilemma, and that of the reader in answering the question he has posed. The reader is told that the princess knew and "hated" the waiting maiden, one of her attendants, whom she suspected of being infatuated with the princess's lover. The princess, the reader must keep in mind, is "semi-barbaric," too, or she wouldn't have come to witness the ordeal at all; and though she has shrieked when struck by the thought of her lover torn to bits before her eyes, the thought of his dancing out of the arena with his blushing bride has afflicted her more sharply, and more often. In either case, the princess knows her lover is lost to her forever. She has agonized over her decision, but by the time she arrives at the arena, she is resolute, and she makes her gesture to the right unhesitatingly. 

The Choice: The author refuses to answer his question with authority so the story ends with the famous line, 

"And so I leave it with all of you: 
Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?"

If you are the lover, what choices do you have?  Have you considered you actually have more than two options that the king imposes on you? 

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  • What if you had suggested another way to show your innocence? 
  • What if you convinced the king of another option? 
  • What if you opened both doors? 
  • What if you refused to open either? 
  • What if you are guilty, then admit your guilt before the arena door option?
  • What if you suggest another punishment more fitting?
  • What if you could show and convince the king of your value that would save you this dilemma? 

What choice would you make to survive?

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a much-anthologized short story written by Frank R. Stocktonfor publication in the magazine The Century in 1882. "The Lady, or the Tiger?" has come into the English language as an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication or signifier for a problem that is unsolvable.

Types of Dilemmas:

  • Chicken or egg: which is first of two things, each of which presupposes the other
  • Double bind: conflicting requirements ensure that the victim will automatically be wrong.
  • Ethical dilemma: a choice between moral imperatives.
  • Extortion: the choice between paying the extortionist and suffering an unpleasant action.
  • Fairness dilemmas: when groups are faced with making decisions about how to share their resources, rewards, or payoffs.
  • Hobson's choice: a choice between something and nothing; "take it or leave it".
  • Morton's fork: choices yield equivalent, often undesirable, results.
  • Prisoner's dilemma: an inability to coordinate makes cooperation difficult and defection tempting.
  • Samaritan's dilemma: the choice between providing charity and improving another's condition, and withholding it to prevent them from becoming dependent.
  • Sophie's choice: a choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen.
  • Traveler's dilemma: you could make the best move possible to win the game according to its rules. But in doing so, you forfeit almost the entire value of a lost suitcase full of antiques of which you are the owner.
  • Zugzwang: one must move and incur harm when one would prefer to make no move (esp. in chess).

Several idioms describe dilemmas:

Mystique's Mayaguana Moon

Mystique's Mayaguana Moon

Weigh or Way?

Weigh or Way?