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Winning and losing

By Donu Kogbara
A friend recently sent me an email containing a very thought-provoking fable; and I’m publishing an edited version of it because we can all learn from it.  

An ageing king woke up one day to the realisation that, should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only men could succeed to the throne.
Since he had no son, he set out to adopt one who must, he decided, be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition.

The competition was open to all of the boys in his kingdom, regardless of their social backgrounds. Hundreds of boys participated and 10 eventually qualified as finalists. But there was little to separate them in terms of intelligence, physical attributes or talents and the king addressed them thus:

“I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir. This kingdom depends solely on agriculture and anyone who rules it should know how to cultivate plants well. So here is a seed of corn for each of you…
“Take it home and plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, the boy who has done the best job will be pronounced my heir-apparent”.

The boys hurried home to plant their seeds.  There was much excitement in the land as people waited with bated breath to discover who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, disaster struck. One particular boy and his parents were heartbroken when, after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout.

This boy did not know what had gone wrong. He had selected the soil diligently  and had applied the right quantity and type of fertilizer and had been very dutiful about watering the soil at the correct intervals. He had even prayed over it day and night; and yet his seed had turned out to be totally unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to buy a new seed from the market and start from scratch, pointing out that nobody can tell one seed of corn from another.

He resisted the temptation to take this advice because his parents said that it would be better to lose the chance to gain a throne than to deceive his king.

When D-Day came, he returned to the palace with his competitors and was filled with despair and shame and fear and self-loathing when he saw that the other nine boys were proudly exhibiting exceedingly fine corn seedlings.

The king began making his way down the line of eager boys and asked each of them: “Is this fine plant what came out of the seed I gave you?”As each boy responded, “Yes, Your Majesty,” the king nodded and moved down the line.

Finally, he got to the boy who had nothing to show. He was trembling in terror, thinking that the king might have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed.

“What did you do with the seed I gave you?” the king asked.
“I planted it and cared for it as best I could, Your Majesty. But it didn’t sprout,” the boy said tearfully. The crowd of onlookers began to boo and hiss.

The monarch raised his hands imperiously, signalled for silence and then proclaimed that this ‘loser’ was going to be the next ruler of the kingdom.

The new crown prince was as shocked and confused as the gathered throngs when the king mounted his throne and asked him to sit beside him. A senior courtier ventured to ask the king why he had made this unexpected choice.

“This test was not really about cultivation skills. It was a test of character and integrity  and he is the only one who passed. I gave everyone boiled seeds. Any farmer can tell you that boiled seeds can never sprout and it is obvious that the other boys cheated.

The one quality a king must possess is honesty and I will not hand my people over to anyone who thinks that winning is all that matters,” he replied.

We live in a society that is so intensely materialistic that many of us pursue success at any cost because we are so afraid of losing out; and the widespread belief that the end justifies the means is a tragedy.

When our leaders callously ignore the plight of the poverty-stricken  citizens who depend on them and steal billions, are boiled seeds not coming alive?!

God is the ultimate king and He keeps testing us and we keep failing Him. It is as if we stupidly think that He won’t know that we have been fraudulent when we assure the world that our boiled seeds have miraculously started to sprout!
We go to church and mosque every Sunday and Friday. We preface many of our daily activities with pious prayers. And then  we betray the fundamental moral values that our respective religions urge us to adhere to.

A lady I know has been ostracised by her work colleagues and boss because she refused to share their penchant for dubious practices that are depriving children in her state of crucial resources. I consoled her by reminding her that while she may not win on this earth, she will be vindicated on Judgement Day.


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