Being honourable (rather than just responsible)

“You’ve got to be more responsible!”

As we’re growing up, this is often a comment thrown at us by unhappy teachers or parents.

Responsibility can end up having very negative associations.

But being responsible at work is crucial.

To be successful:

  • we have to behave appropriately;

  • we have to achieve results without being micro-managed;

  • and we have to use our logical brain to make conscious, sensible decisions.

However, there is one particular element of responsibility which I think is particularly important: being honourable.

This could be considered to be an old-fashioned quality, but actually it underpins our work reputation.

  • Do we do what we say we will?

  • Do we act from the best intentions for ourselves and others?

  • Do we act in an underhand way, moaning or spreading malicious gossip?

  • Or if we are unhappy with something, do we confront it openly, and head-on?

All of these behaviours are crucial to being successful.

These are illustrated well in the story of The Next Emperor of China and the Empty Pot.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Emperor of China realised he was getting old and had no son to succeed him.

(My feminist principles are obviously unhappy with it having to be a male heir, but this was a long time ago. These days, thankfully, they’ve changed the rules on royal succession…)

The Emperor decided to hold a competition to find the most worthy successor.

He ordered a Royal Proclamation to be heard throughout the land: any boy who wanted to be Emperor, should come to the Royal Palace to receive one seed.

The boy whose seed had grown and flourished the most after six months, would become the next Emperor of China.

On the day of the great seed distribution, there were crowds of boys thronging around the Palace, each hoping that he would become Emperor. (And their families hoping too.)

Each boy was given a single seed, and commanded to return six months hence.

Over the next few weeks, there was excitement throughout the land as the seeds began to germinate, push their way up through the soil, and start to grow.

Except for one boy - let's call him Jun.

He was renowned as a gardener, and had carefully potted up his seed, watered it, and waited with excitement to see the first shoot.

But nothing happened.

All around him the seeds had become plants, and were getting larger and more luxuriant.

  • He tried repotting it in different soil;

  • he watered it carefully;

  • and he made sure it had enough sunshine and warmth.

But despite all his best efforts, his seed simply refused to grow.

At the end of six months, the boys gathered once more at the Palace.

They all had huge plants with them, and they all hoped to be chosen as the next Emperor.

All except Jun.

His seed had stubbornly refused to sprout - so all he had to show for his six months of tender care was an empty pot.

He was ashamed of this, but decided to go along anyway, as he had done his best.

The Emperor stepped out onto the Palace balcony and surveyed the forest of plants in front of him.

Then he noticed Jun.

Asking him to step forward, he asked him with a fierce look, where was his plant? Why had he come just with an empty pot?

Jun hung his head.

“I’m so sorry your majesty, I tried: I used the finest soil, I watered it carefully, and made sure it had the right amount of sunlight and warmth, but my seed refused to sprout. I’m sorry I’ve let you down."

Suddenly, the Emperor’s fierce look broke into a huge smile.

“You are my successor!” he shouted.

“NONE of the seeds could sprout - they were all baked in the oven before I gave them to you. None of these plants could have come from the seeds you were given. You are the only boy who has been honourable. So you will be the next Emperor of China!”

And so when the time came, Jun was crowned as the next Emperor.

And he went down in history as being one of the best Emperors China ever had.

The old Emperor knew that being honourable was an excellent indicator of the qualities you need to succeed...

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