"Yes, father." "George, I have a very serious question to ask you and I want you
to promise you'll answer truthfully. Will you?"
"Good. Now here is the question. Did you cut down my cherry tree?"
"You're quite sure?"
"Well, I'm afraid I'm very disappointed in you, George."
"Because 12 people saw you cut down the cherry tree with your little hatchet."
"In view of that, would you like to change your previous answer, George?"
"No, father. I believe the answer I gave you was legally accurate."
"You still insist you were telling me the truth?"
"In my own mind I was telling you the truth, yes father."
"What the [deleted] is that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you asked me if I had 'cut' down the tree. In my own mind, it seemed to me that 'cutting' is something one does with a knife or a sickle. In my In my own mind it seemed that, since I used my little hatchet, the relationship I had with the tree, while perhaps inappropriate, was not a 'cutting' relationship. I would call it a 'chopping' relationship."
"Very well. I'll give you another chance, George. Listen very carefully. Did you chop down my cherry tree?"
"No? No? Why do you still say no?" "Because, father, I cannot tell a lie. And in my own mind I did not chop down' your cherry tree."
"Well, what did you do, then?"
"I chopped it into two pieces and one piece fell to the ground."
"So you chopped it down."
"No, father, I merely chopped it. I did not cause that piece to fall down. The force of gravity caused it to fall down. Were it not for the force of gravity, over which I have absolutely no control, the tree, though segmented, would presumably still be up, not down."
"George, I'm losing patience with you. But I'm going to give you one last chance to tell the truth. Did you take your little hatchet and chop my cherry tree, which action on your part, combined with the force of gravity, caused the tree to fall down?"
"NO? NO? IT'S STILL NO? HOW CAN YOU STILL SAY NO?"
"I still say no because of my legendary regard for the truth, father. What is that object at which I am pointing with my childish little finger?"
"It's the stump of the cherry tree you cut down."
"And isn't the stump part of the tree, father?"
"It sure is." "In fact, isn't the stump the most important part of the tree,
father, since, without a stump there would be no tree?"
"I guess so."
"Yet the stump is still standing. So when you asked me if I had chopped down the tree, my own mind said to me, 'George, you must tell the truth. And the truthful answer is no. You chopped, gravity caused part of the tree to fall down yet the most important part of the tree is still standing.'"
"All I can suppose, father, is that those 12 people whose exaggerated claims allege they saw me 'cut down' the entire 'tree' were motivated not by a search for truth but by some personal vendetta against me, perhaps because I am from Virginia."
"George, you're a real crafty [expletive deleted.]"
"Thank you father."
"Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?"
"Yes, father. If they ever build a White House I would like to occupy it as the first White House lawyer."