When being best fails the test

It is written in the book of Proverbs that a man skilled in his work shall serve before kings. Solomon, to whom this book is attributed, begins by posing a rhetorical question in Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skilled in his work?” he asks. Then while the reader scours memory to fish out some prime examples of such a man, the famed king goes on to say: “I tell you, he will serve before kings, not obscure men.”

Well and good. Perhaps it should be so. The reader, however, cannot help but wonder why great skill should at best only qualify one to be a royal servant, not a king. That is to say, why should talent only qualify us to serve before kings and not alongside them? To those of us raised on global platitudinous fare the natural expectation in life is that a man skilled in his work should one day be king. This is what our parents and teachers drill into us right from childhood and it is what our faith in the justness of nature leads us to expect. But wait a moment: Who are we to cast doubt on the wise words of Ancient Israel’s sagely king, he who was reputed by his subjects to have had more wisdom “than all of Egypt”?

So let us take it for a fact that the best thing that great skill can secure for us in life is service before kings. This unscholarly submission to authority, however, fails to quieten the curious mind, for in its wake a further question arises: If great skill does not a king make, how then does a soul come to be king?

The answer to this question lies in the very quote we have met. Many talented people spend their lives smothered and mired in the masses of obscure men, a social structure opaque to golden light, which fact therefore denies the world a glimpse of their lustrous talent. The king, quite simply, is he who affords these talented persons a stage where they may perform before an exalted audience. This power to cast golden talent and a golden audience in a common arena is unique to kings and is what separates them from the merely great. There is no requirement for the king to be a star performer in any field; rather, his role in life is to provide the platform where talent once recognized can thrive and be brought to profitable attention.

So take time now and look around you. Do you see a man skilled in bringing talent before an exalted audience? Does he also know how to lay a stage where talent can thrive? I tell you, he will serve alongside kings! This is strikingly exemplified by the story of Bill Gates. When he developed his operating system, he could well have sold it to the computer giant IBM to have his talent displayed through its platform to the exalted audience that the IBM brand attracted. Then IBM would have been the king before whom the talented Gates served. But Gates forsook the IBM stage to create his own. He called it Microsoft. From that day to this he has served alongside kings.

 

(Author-poet Agona Apell is the author of The Success Genome Unravelled: Turning men from rot to rock)

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