The old man who spoiled everything

By Paulo Coelho

G. I. Gurdjeff was one the twentieth century’s most intriguing characters. Although a familiar name in occult circles, his work as a student of human psychology remains unknown.

The following events took place when he was living in Paris, having just set up his famous Institute for Human Development.

The classes were always packed, but amongst the students was a very bad-tempered old man, who was constantly criticising the Institute’s teachings. He said that Gurdjeff was a charlatan, that his methods had no scientific basis, and that his reputation as a ‘magus’ bore no relation to reality. The other students were bothered by the presence of this old man, but Gurdjeff did not seem to mind.

One day, the old man left the group. Everyone felt relieved, thinking that from then on the classes would be quieter and more productive. To their surprise, Gurdjeff went to the man’s house and asked him to return to the Institute.

The old man refused at first and only accepted when he was offered a salary to attend the classes.

The story soon spread. The students were disgusted and wanted to know why a teacher should reward someone who had learned nothing.

‘Actually, I’m paying him to continue teaching,’ came the reply.

‘What?!’ said the students. ‘Everything he does goes completely against what you are teaching us.’

‘Exactly,’ said Gurdjeff. ‘Without him around, you would find it hard to understand what rage, intolerance, impatience and lack of compassion really mean. However, with this old man as a living example, showing just how such feelings can turn community life into a hell, you will learn much more quickly. You pay me to learn how to live in harmony, and I hired this man to help me teach you that lesson, only the other way round.’

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