Storytelling at Work
May 21, 2020
On Seeing Clearly

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Once there was a powerful, wise, and benevolent King who knew his time was coming to an end. Wanting to ensure that his Kingdom continued to thrive after his death, he called his three sons to his side.

"Blood of my blood," he began, "I know my loyal subjects are expecting me to pass my crown on to my first born -- and that is perfectly understandable, but I do not want my legacy ruled by assumptions and so I am inviting the three of you to enter into a contest to determine who the next King will be. I have designed the contest not to test your strength because I already know you are strong. Nor have I designed it to test your loyalty. I already know that, too. I have designed the contest to test your ability to see that which is not immediately apparent, since seeing clearly will be one of the most important skills you will need to rule wisely."

And with that he had his Grand Vizier escort the three boys down several long hallways and through a hidden doorway none of them had ever seen before.

"Wait here," he said. "Your father will arrive soon enough to explain the rules."

One hour passed. Then another. Then another still. And then, with no fanfare, the King appeared, trailed by his courtiers, physicians, and Queen. Silently, he approached his sons and bowed.

"Flesh of my flesh," he began, pointing to a large wooden door before him. "In a moment, I will enter this room and stand in middle. I will bring nothing with me -- only my love for you and my curiosity. Then, one by one, each of you will have his turn. Three times I will perform this experiment. The door will open and, starting with my first born, when it is your turn, you will enter. Your task will be a simple one -- to tell me what you see in the room. That's it. But you will only have a brief amount of time to accomplish this task. If you take too long, you will be disqualified. Understand?"

And with that, the Grand Vizier turned the boys around so their backs were to the door. Then he grabbed the hand of the eldest son, walked him to the door, opened it, and spoke one word: "Enter."

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The boy walked in. The room was completely dark.

"Well..." said the King, "what do you see, my son?"

"Nothing, father," the eldest son said. "There is nothing here, but you."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. Now turn around and when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the middle son's turn. The Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word: "Enter".

The boy walked in. The room was still completely dark.

"Well"... said the King, "what do you see, my boy?"

"Nothing, father," the middle son said. "There is nothing here but you. And, of course, me, too."

"Thank you, my son. Well said. A most important distinction you have made. Now turn around and, when the door opens, exit quickly."

Now it was the youngest son's turn. Again, the Grand Vizier approached, took him by the hand, walked him to the door, opened it and spoke one word.

Like his two brothers before him, the boy entered. The room was still completely dark.

"Well", said the King, "what do you see, my youngest born?"

"Nothing, my father. I see nothing. And while I know I have only the briefest amount of time to reply, may I ask you a simple question?"

"Yes, my son, you may."

"In all your many years, as King, what would you say is the most important thing you have learned?"

"Hmm," replied the King. "An excellent question. Most astute. But my answer will only distract us from the task at hand. We have the next King to select now, don't we?"

But even as the King responded, the eyes of the youngest son began adjusting to the darkness. Where only seconds ago, only blackness prevailed, now he began seeing the faintest outline of things -- a chair, a small table next to it, and a candlestick.

"Oh father," said the son, "thank you for your sage counsel. You are, indeed, a man of high purpose. But before I take my leave, please allow me to tell you what I see: a chair, a table next to it, and a candlestick."

The King took a long, slow breath. Then he exhaled even more slowly.

"Well done, my son, well done. You see clearly. And because you do, you shall the one to inherit my throne!"

One contest. Three sons. Three different responses.

The first son, the eldest, spoke the truth. He saw nothing and said so, noting only the obvious presence of the King. The second son, also saw nothing, but had the discernment to acknowledge his own presence in the room. The third son, the youngest, was the only one who understood that seeing sometimes takes time and that first impressions aren't always accurate -- so he bought himself the time he needed by asking the King a compelling question -- providing him with the time needed for his eyes to adjust to light and see what was not immediately apparent.

And so it is with the wisdom inside us.

It is not always immediately visible to us. Indeed, it is often shrouded in darkness, hidden from plain sight. And where it is hidden, more times than not, is in our stories -- the faraway room within us in which the King abides. And the chair. And the table. And the candlestick.

If we want to see what's really there, we need to give it time. We need to get curious, ask our questions, and allow our eyes to adjust, even if, at first glance, it seems as if nothing is there.

Excerpted from Storytelling for the Revolution

Photo #1: William Krauss, Unsplash
Photo #2: Ruel Calitis, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 21, 2020 06:35 AM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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