This is a story from imperial China that speaks to the importance or having good character.
Many years ago, during the Ming Dynasty, there was a young man who was an extremely gifted gardener. All around his village he grew the most beautiful patches of flowers and plants. Even in soil where nothing grew, he could work some magic and by Spring time, wonderful explosions of color would rise out of the ground. Just as important, this boy had been raised by his parents to be virtuous and truthful. News of his skill with horticulture spread outside the village and even to the provincial capital of his state.
Soon after the young man had gained some recognition, news arrived in the village that the man in charge of the Emperor’s gardens had passed away. The emperor sent out a call for all of the best gardeners to present themselves at the capital so they could be tested for their skill. On the date listed in the announcement, over one hundred candidates assembled in the imperial courtyard. One of those candidates was that young man from the small village. He represented the hopes and dreams not only of his family, but of the entire province, since an appointment to the Emperor’s court would bring great honor to everyone associated with the person chosen.
After waiting for some time, the emperor appeared up on a dias and greeted all of the candidates. He then instructed his servants to bring out a gift to every person in the courtyard. The gift was a large pot filled with dark beautiful soil. The emperor then explained that this was to be the interview for each candidate. He said, “Each of your pots has been filled with the best soil in all of China. And mixed in with this soil are the seeds of beautiful flowers and plants from my own gardens.” He continued saying, ” In one month’s time, you will return to this courtyard, with your pot to be judged on your skills as a gardener. The person who passes this interview will be my next imperial gardener.”
The young man returned home so excited he felt his heart pounding the entire way. When he arrived with the pot he set to work immediately. He used all of his skills and knowledge to make sure the seeds were properly watered, that they received just the right amount of sunlight. He even added special nutrients into the water which had always worked in the past to enhance the growth of plants. Every day he took care of the seeds and soil to the very best of his ability with all of the knowledge he had accumulated over the years.
Two weeks later and the young man began to develop some doubts. Nothing was growing in the pot! He said, ” Maybe these seeds need more sunlight.” So he set the pot out in the sun for an extra hour every day. When that didn’t work, he revised the fertilizer combination added to the soil in the first two weeks. Still, nothing grew, so the the young man increased the amount of water added to the pot. Nothing. As the month came to an end, more and more of the villagers began to cast doubts on the young man’s ability. He began to hear whispers that maybe he wasn’t as good of a gardener as people thought. This gossip hurt, and led to doubts creeping into the young man’s thoughts.
When he expressed these doubts to his parents, they said, “The most important thing is to try your hardest and do everything with integrity.” At the end of the month, not one plant had grown in the young man’s pot. He was so embarrassed but his parents pushed him to still go to the Emperor’s courtyard and face his failure head on.
On the appointed date, the young man filed in to the imperial courtyard with all of the other candidates. It was even worse than he thought: every other pot was filled with the most beautiful collection of flowers. Brilliant yellows and pinks and white flowers rose out of 99 flower pots. But not his. The emperor personally stood in front of every candidate’s pot to examine their work. When he came to the young man with the empty pot, the Emperor remained very still, seemingly lost in thought. The young man quickly apologized to the emperor for his ineptitude as a gardener.
Rather than a scowl, the boy was surprised to see the Emperor begin to smile. The Emperor said, “Don’t apologize, you are my new imperial gardener! All of these other candidates failed the interview. None of them knew that the seeds I placed in each pot had been boiled in scalding hot water. They were never going to grow! You were the only one with the integrity to appear today having seemingly failed at my task. For that, you demonstrated more character than any of these other people.”
The boy served as the imperial gardener for 50 years and the imperial gardens flourished under his care.