If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. ~ Virginia Woolf Click To Tweet
Word had spread across the kingdom, to every serf and sage, that the Emperor was soon to appoint a new successor, and that it was to be an anointment unlike any before. This caused a great stirring across the land. Many considered this Emperor to be the wisest to have yet come to power, his policies having built a just and content country over the course of his ruling.
When it was announced that he was to eschew the traditional route of family or politics in search a scion for the throne, few were surprised. Instead, he called the youth of the kingdom together and gathered them all in the Great Hall.
Once all the children were present and settled, the royal guards cleared enough space on the dais at the front of the crowded hall for the Emperor to emerge from behind the curtain. When he did, a hush fell over the room, greater in its silence today than it was for the usual gatherings, for the great monarch emerged cupping something in his palms.
“Today,” he announced, “it is not just I who greets you, but myself… and a friend. A very special friend.” Slowly, he opened his hands to reveal what was inside. It was a solitary, tiny seed. He waited a few moments as the children stirred, murmuring amongst themselves. “While it may seem small, and delicate, and ineffectual, this single tiny seed is a lesson in power yet to reveal itself, and will come to play a far more integral role in the future of this Kingdom than even the hands that hold it.”
He signalled the guards, and a select few of them began to walk out amongst the children, handing out a single seed to each of them as they went. “You are each to take your own seed home with you when you leave. I want you to plant it, water it, and come back after one year with what you have.” The children began to murmur excitedly as they received their gifts. “Then, on that day,” the Emperor announced, raising his voice above the chattering, “I will examine what you have brought back to show me, and, based on the results—hopefully—I will be appointing one of you as my successor, to be brought then into the official folds of the kingdom, whereupon you will begin your training.”
Everyone left with their seeds and excitedly set about planting, including a young boy named Ling. He went home and told his mother the story, who helped him find a pot and some planting soil. He then planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.
After about three weeks, some of the other youth in the kingdom began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept checking his seed, but nothing had yet sprouted. Six months passed, and Ling began hearing that everyone else had grown various types of trees, plants and flowers. But still, he had nothing.
Then, the day came when all the children were summoned again to the palace, to show what they had with them. Ling told his mother that he didn’t want to take an empty pot to the Emperor, but she knew he was an honest boy, and encouraged him in that, telling him that his efforts had been true and that there was no shame in showing this.
Ling was afraid, and embarrassed, but he did as his mother requested and left for the palace with his pot of soil. There, he was amazed at the variety of beautiful plants the others had grown. Ling put his empty pot on the floor, a number of the other kids laughing at him as he did so.
When the Emperor arrived, he surveyed the room quietly, walking about the plants very slowly, examining all of the different foliage and the beaming children that accompanied them. Ling was hiding in the back trying to go unseen, but the Emperor found him, and gave pause when he did. Walking over, he eyed the boy and his plant closely, saying nothing, the slightest frown drawn across his face. He ordered his guards to have Ling carried up to the front of the room.
The emperor knows I’m a failure! Ling thought. Is he going to humiliate me, in front of everyone!?
Arriving at the front, the guards let go of him, leaving him standing alone before all of the other children, many of whom were snickering and pointing.
“What is your name, child?” The Emperor asked loudly.
“Ling,” he replied quietly.
“Behold, everyone, your new Emperor, Ling!”
The palace was stunned into silence, including Ling. How could this be? His seed had not even grown!
The great monarch began pacing through the crowd of children once more, his voice deep with the wisdom of someone imparting true knowledge. “One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I instructed you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today.
“What you were unaware of, however, was that every seed I handed out had been boiled before-hand – none of them were fit to grow! All of you today have brought me trees, plants and flowers, born of your dishonesty. The seeds which grew these plants were not the ones I supplied you. Therefore, look upon the only honest one among you, young Ling, and know now why he is your ruler.”