The Wise Men of Chelm


The wise men of Chelm are a gallery of wrong decision making. For example:

The wise men of Chelm discussed how to make the Chelmians in general wiser. They decided that stupid people should not have children. To achieve that, they decided to make the village shtetl idiot divorce his wife. “But he isn’t married”, someone objected. So the wise men decreed that the idiot should marry and then divorce.

That’s right. Set an intermediate goal and forget the final one. Large bureaucracies such as ministries and government agencies do that all the time.

The bridge at Chelm was dangerous: People passing over the bridge would slip at its end and break their arms or legs. So the wise men of Chelm decreed to build a hospital next to the bridge.

Programmers call that patching.

The Chelmians wanted to build a public bath. However, they couldn’t make up their minds whether to rasp the floor boards. For if they didn’t, people might get splinters in their feet, but if they did rasp and the boards were smooth, people might slip on the wet floor and fall. After discussing the matter for several days, the wise men decreed: The carpenter must rasp the boards but put them smooth side down.

Conflicting goals. And so on.

The wise men of Chelm live among us. Unfortunately, some of us are their employees.


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