How to divide 17 by 3

William Ury is a mediator, writer and speaker, working with conflicts ranging from family feuds to boardroom battles to ethnic wars. He’s the author of “Getting to Yes.”

Well, the subject of difficult negotiation reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Middle East, of a man who left to his three sons, 17 camels. To the first son, he left half the camels; to the second son, he left a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he left a ninth of the camels. The three sons got into a negotiation — 17 doesn’t divide by two. It doesn’t divide by three. It doesn’t divide by nine. Brotherly tempers started to get strained. Finally, in desperation, they went and they consulted a wise old woman.The wise old woman thought about their problem for a long time, and finally she came back and said, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but at least, if you want, you can have my camel.” So then, they had 18 camels. The first son took his half — half of 18 is nine. The second son took his third — a third of 18 is six. The youngest son took his ninth — a ninth of 18 is two. You get 17. They had one camel left over.They gave it back to the wise old woman.