The Sultan’s donkey
These days the newspapers or television stations feature articles that I find I am more and more irritated by. These articles are when a Minister is reported as giving information on a situation and then stating how there will be a drastic, positive improvement in the situation within few months or years. I guess that my reaction comes from my experiences with the UN in Africa and and throughout the Middle East where all too often Ministers promised similar achievements within a certain time and the promise was never fulfilled.
There is a widely used proverb in Europe which is that ‘empty barrels make the most noise. The Scots lay claim to it as do the Swedes and Danes but wherever it originated it is a very true saying that springs to mind in such a situation. These statements are repeatedly made when there is no evidence to give credence to the claim and one wonders if the person making the announcement is just saying what he hopes will happen or that he knows that no one will question a person in his position. Many, many years ago a relative told me of an old story that can be applied in these cases. The old tale goes as follows:
‘A long time ago there was a sultan who had a donkey that he was very fond of. One day the Sultan announced that he would give a fortune in gold to anyone who could teach his donkey to read and write. If the teacher failed in his task he would lose his head but, if indeed the donkey was taught to read and write, the teacher would become rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Sure enough several people were tempted by the prize and tried to teach the donkey but all failed and were duly beheaded. Then one day another adventurer came to the sultan and told him that he could teach the donkey to read and write. The sultan asked the man if he was sure he could succeed where others had failed and paid the price. “Oh yes,“ said the adventurer, “ I will be able to teach him to read and write. However he is not very clever so it will take me at least 7 years.” So pleased that his donkey would be able to read and write the sultan gave the man 7 years to train it. As the adventurer led the donkey away from the court his friends came up to him saying “Are you mad? Do you want to die? That animal can never learn to read or write!”
“I know,” said the adventurer, “but 7 years from now things will have changed. Either the donkey will be dead, the sultan could be dead or I will have died! So why worry!”
So perhaps all those who publicly promise such beneficial changes given time have read the story of the sultan’s donkey.