(Ed’s Note: We can learn a lot from stories. Jesus used parables (simple stories) to help the least educated of his followers understand his message. This clever tale from Southeast Asia teaches us the difference between first-rate work and second-rate effort. Anyone disappointed in not being promoted at your place of work would do well to read and heed the message of this story.)
Two cousins grew up side by side from the day they both entered the world. They learned to crawl and toddle together, and later how to run and swim and play ball and all the other things boys do together. They were constant and devoted friends.
But eventually they began to drift apart, as sometimes happens as even good friends move through life. One cousin took to his books, found a certain delight in learning, studied hard, and passed his exams with flying colors. The other cousin decided books weren’t such good companions. He skipped school a good bit so he could continue to swim and play ball, ignored his leaders, and ended up failing his exams.
As is usually the way of the world, fortune rewarded the first cousin, who ended up becoming an adviser to the king himself. The second cousin soon found himself employed as an oarsman on his majesty’s royal yacht.
One day the king and all his royal advisers embarked on a journey up the river. They sat under a wide canopy in the bow of the boat, where the breeze was best, and discussed affairs of state as the yacht moved along.
The sight of his cousin sitting at ease with royalty irked the oarsman no end.
“Look at that lazy fellow, lounging there in the shade, while I must break my back in the sun,” he thought as he rowed. “What gives him the right to sit up there, any more than me? After all, aren’t we both God’s creatures?”
The more he thought about it, the angrier he grew.
“Look at those useless louts,” he began grumbling to this fellow oarsmen. “They call themselves advisers, but all they do is sit and gab. Why should we sweat so hard to push their carcasses against the current? There’s nothing fair about it. They ought to be back here rowing too. Aren’t we all God’s creatures?”
That evening they tied to shore to make camp. Everyone ate and fell asleep quickly.
The oarsman woke in the middle of the night to find a firm hand shaking him by the shoulder. It was the king himself.
“There’s a strange noise coming from over there,” he said, pointing. “I can’t go to sleep from wondering what it is. Please go find out.”
The oarsman jumped off the boat and ran up the hill. He came back a few minutes later.
“It’s nothing, your Majesty,” he said. “A cat has just given birth to a litter of noisy kittens.”
“Ah, I see,” said the king. “What kind of kittens?”
The oarsman had not looked to see. He ran up the hill again and came back.
“Siamese,” he said.
“And how many kittens are there?” the king inquired.
Again, the oarsman had not noticed. He went back.
“Six kittens,” he reported.
“How many males and how many females?” the king asked.
The oarsman ran back once again.
“Three males and three females,” he cried, beginning to lose his breath.
“I see,” said the king. “Come with me.”
They tiptoed to the bow of the boat, where the king woke the oarsman’s cousin.
“There’s a strange noise up on that hill,” he told him. “Go find out what it is.”
The adviser disappeared into the darkness and returned in a moment.
“It is a newborn litter of kittens, Your Majesty,” he said.
“What kind of kittens?” the king asked.
“Siamese,” answered his adviser.
“How man males and how many females?”
“Three males and three females. The mother gave birth in an overturned barrel just after we arrived. The cats belong to the mayor of the village. He hopes they have not disturbed you, and invites you to come take your pick if the court is in need of a royal pet.”
The king looked at the oarsman.
“I overheard your grumbling earlier today,” he said. “Yes, we are all God’s creatures. But all God’s creatures have work to do. I had to send you to shore four times for answers. My adviser went only once. This is why he is my adviser, and you must row the boat.”