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Of donkeys and kings

September 2012

Let’s indulge in a little fable. Once upon a time, there was a king of a little kingdom. It was a prosperous kingdom, full of riches. But it was little nonetheless, a little kingdom with high walls that gave an illusion of infinity to the kingdom’s skies.
The king had a reputation for being very competent, an expert in kingly affairs and loved by the majority of his subjects. But the king had a flaw that his subjects did not know about: Because of its high walls, the kingdom appeared unique and incomparable in the mind of the king. This impression worked on the king’s mind to the point of arrogance.

He forgot that he’d gone to school with subjects and princes from all over the world, all equally capable and intelligent. He forgot that his fellow kings all had the same stature and capacity. And he thought the emperor should treat him differently than the other kings because he contributed more to the emperor’s coffers, which made his time and influence more valuable than the others.

His subjects mistook this arrogance for power and wisdom, although his fellow kings knew better. But because the king ruled his own kingdom, there was nothing the other kings could do to tame his airs.

Until one day, when a witch appeared in the king’s kingdom. This was not an ugly witch nor a beautiful one. In fact, she was an average witch, with average powers and an average demeanor. But because she was a witch, the king thought she should come to the palace and entertain him.

Turns out the witch knew the opinion of the other kings and thought this king needed to be taught a lesson.

And so she went to see him. The king sat on his magnificent throne in his royal hall. The hall had high windows that looked out on the walls, so all the king could see was how far his kingdom reached.

The king asked, “Witch, you know all kings. Aren’t I the most special?”

“And why would that be?” the witch responded.

“Well, look at my subjects. They are well-fed and healthy, and I respond to their concerns immediately”

“But so do all the other kings,” the witch countered.

“But my subjects have more complicated lives, with more complicated issues that need a higher degree of skill!” said the king, his annoyance growing.

“All kings have complicated issues to deal with,” the witch shot back.

“Well, witch, aren’t I the smartest, most prepared of kings? Don’t I work the longest hours to care for my subjects? Clearly, that kind of effort deserves greater riches and respect!”

“All kings work hard, are smart and are well-prepared.”

“But I am special! I bring the most riches to the emperor’s coffers!”

“Maybe, and the emperor may treat you better, but such things don’t last. Accessibility bought is accessibility easily lost.”

“Bah, witch! I don’t believe you. Show me a trick! Use your magic to show everyone how great I am!”

And with that, the witch murmured a few words, spread her arms wide and said, “So be it.”

A second later, the walls of the kingdom collapsed. The king could see the countryside from his high windows. With another flick of her fingers, the witch took the king floating into the sky, traveling the breadth of the kingdom, where he saw how hard the other kings worked, how well-prepared they were and how similar all their subjects were to his.

When the spell was over, the king looked at the witch and said, “Who cares! I am still the most special king in the world!”

“And so you are and so you will be, and all will see how special you are,” the witch cackled, as she disappeared into a puff of smoke.

Immediately, all the subjects and ministers in the audience started laughing, pointing at the king. When he demanded why they were laughing, a loud bray came from his mouth.

The witch had turned the king into a donkey.

The moral of the story? You may think you’re special, but you’re not. Seems some of our colleagues do think they are smarter than everyone else. Or special. Or smarter AND special.

Some pushback may be needed to tame those airs. But if they insist on thinking so, here’s a piece of advice for them: Don’t be an ass about it!