The king disobeys his own decree

One day long ago a king went up to the roof of his palace. From there he could look out over the whole city. To his wide surprise he saw that down below, in the street, all the citizens were singing and dancing. They were wearing brilliant and colourful costumes and they looked most spectacular. Naturally the king thought that they were all appreciating and admiring him, so he was very pleased with them, especially when he saw that they had gone to so much trouble to wear beautiful costumes.

Unfortunately, the king had a very critical side to his nature. The more he looked at the costumes, the more unsatisfactory he found them. He said, “I know they are getting joy from wearing all the colours of the rainbow. However, since I am the one they are trying to please, I feel my own joy should come first. I must get joy in my own way and not in their way.”

So the king went downstairs and summoned his minister. He told the minister, “You can make an announcement that I am very pleased with the singing and dancing that was held today in my honour, but I will be more pleased if, from now on, all the citizens wear a kind of uniform. It has to be the same colour, but there should be one design for men and another for women. Right from tomorrow, everybody will wear the same thing. This also applies to me and to the queen. Everyone will be equal, and you people will be able to talk to me in exactly the same way that you talk to each other. Everyone will be able to talk and mix freely and openly, without any distinctions of rank or wealth. According to me, that will make an ideal kingdom. I want everybody to be equal, equal, equal.”

So the decree went out. The poor people were very happy that they would be wearing the same uniform as the king and the members of the court, but the members of the court and all the wealthy citizens were unhappy to the extreme because now they would look just like the poorest people in the kingdom. The queen was especially unhappy because she would not be able to wear her beautiful gowns and jewels. She would look just like a maidservant.

But the king was supremely happy and he was convinced that his attempt to create an ideal society would be a success. The next day the king put on his uniform and went in search of his wife. He saw quite a few women in the palace, but he found it difficult to tell which one was his wife, since they were all wearing exactly the same kind of dress. He said, “What is happening? My queen is so beautiful, so dignified. Now everybody looks practically the same. I cannot distinguish her from any of the other women or attendants in the palace.”

When the queen saw that her husband could not recognise her, she was deeply hurt and she went back to her own room. Meanwhile, the king went in search of his minister. He found the minister chatting with some friends. When the king approached, the minister did not bow down or show him any kind of outer respect. What is more, the minister was wearing exactly the same kind of uniform as the king. This was too much for the king. He grabbed the minister’s arm and said, “How dare you ignore me when I approach you! I am the king. You and your friends are wearing the same outfit as I am wearing. There is absolutely no difference between your uniform and mine. I can see that you are all trying to make fun of me!”

The minister was horrified, but he thought perhaps the king was trying to test him in some way. So he said very casually, “You yourself told us to dress like this. If there is anyone to be blamed, it is you.”

Nobody had ever spoken to the king in that manner before. His anger knew no bounds. He said, “What right do you have to challenge me in this way? You are speaking as if you were my equal. That is intolerable! My word is law in this kingdom.”

The minister mustered up his courage and said, “O King, in your decree of yesterday you gave us all the authority to feel that we are as great and as powerful as you are. That is why you told us to wear the same uniform. You wanted everybody in your kingdom to be on an equal footing, including yourself. Furthermore, you told your ministers and others not to treat you any differently than they treated each other. That is why, when you approached me a few moments ago, I did not show you any special respect. I was talking with my friends. If you wanted to interrupt us, you should have apologised first. But you simply grabbed my arm and demanded my attention, the way a king would. You are the first one to disobey your own decree. Now perhaps you will realise your own stupidity!”

When the king received this serious scolding from his minister, he came to his senses and gave up his idea of having an equal society. He said, “Let everyone behave the way they have been behaving all along. Let them dress in whichever clothes they choose, let them mix with their own friends and let them once more show proper respect to their king and queen. I have recognised my stupidity!”