A tale by John-Peter Gernaat
Before King Olof died he divided his kingdom between his two sons Björn and Gustav. King Björn was a very diligent king and very concerned about the welfare of his people. He spent many hours in his council chamber with his advisors planning and receiving reports on the progress of the many projects he initiated to improve the lives of his people.
However, every year when the time came to gather the taxes from his people they grumbled at the taxes they were asked to pay. One year King Björn happened to hear his people moan and grumble. He called his finance minister to him and asked if this was common that his people, for whom he did so much, grumbled at taxing time. “Oh yes”, said his minister of finance, “people are never grateful, they moan like this every year. We simply ignore it.” King Björn was not pleased with this answer and he sent his finance minister to speak with the finance minister of King Gustav.
The finance minister reported back that in King Gustav’s kingdom the people paid their taxes with a smile. Immediately King Björn sent spies into King Gustav’s kingdom to find out what King Gustav did differently. When the spies returned King Björn was even more puzzled. The spies reported back that things in King Gustav’s kingdom were not nearly as well developed as in King Björn’s kingdom: there were no big water purification plants piping clean water to every home. In King Gustav’s kingdom water was fed from fresh springs to cisterns in the town squares and people would gather at the cistern to collect water and waste a good part of their day. In King Gustav’s kingdom there were no supermarkets, farmers brought their produce to market and sold directly to the public so that the public could never be certain of a steady supply of fresh produce.
“How can it be that I work so hard to provide the very best for my people and in return they grumble every year at taxing time,” King Björn asked his advisors, “and in my brothers kingdom things are pretty much as they were when my father was still alive and yet the people seem to be content?” His advisors puzzled over this for a long time but could not give him an answer. So King Björn sent his spies back into King Gustav’s kingdom and instructed them not to return until they had an answer as to why King Gustav’s people were so content.
Three months went by before the spies returned. King Björn was already becoming concerned that the spies had found the answer and decided to remain in King Gustav’s kingdom and not return home. Finally, one day the spies returned and came to give their report to King Björn in his council chamber with his advisors all present.
“We were not sure where to look”, said one of the spies. “We went into taverns and listened to the people’s conversation, but we were none the wiser as to why these people gave their taxes with joy and were generally content. We sat in the market places and watched and listened to the farmers and traders and to the people who came to buy. They were all content with their lives and carried the burden of their simpler lives with joy. We sat at the village cisterns and listened to the people coming to fetch water and talking for long periods of time. We thought they spent an inordinate amount of time just talking at the village cisterns and were obviously less productive than our people at home.
“Finally, a morning dawned and we noticed that everyone was making their way to the palace of King Gustav. So we followed them. King Gustav has a very large courtyard in the centre of his palace and everyone of his people gathered in this courtyard where there is good shade and a cistern of fresh water and farmers had brought a lot of produce and villagers were preparing meals that smelled really good.
“In the middle of the courtyard a dais had been erected and here King Gustav and his council sat. When King Gustav spoke he did not tell his people of great ideas that he had had and how he planned to implement them. He asked his people how their lives were and what could be done to improve their conditions. What happened next really surprised us, one by one every one of his people come forward to the dais, from where it was possible to speak so everyone in the courtyard could hear clearly, and spoke of their lives and the good things that had happened in the last six months and then spoke of their needs. The King and his advisors just sat and listened. Three hours after nightfall some people went home and others unpacked bedding to sleep in the courtyard and the next morning the council continued. It progressed without haste and everyone had enough time to speak. Finally, when everyone had spoken the King and his advisors spoke with each other and then King Gustav addressed his people. He spoke for many hours and in his speech he made mention of all the points he had heard from his people and when he spoke of what he and his advisors would do we could hear that he had included all the wishes of his people. The projects that he proposed were modest and did not disrupt the lifestyle that the people were accustomed to but brought relief in all the areas that caused hardship as identified by the people.
“Finally we thought we had the answer, so we went to the tax collectors and asked them if we were correct. They confirmed for us that King Gustav’s people are happy to pay taxes every year because they were part of the decision making as to how these taxes would be used to positively affect their lives.”
And so it was that King Björn realised that the most import thing of being a king is to get to know your subjects and to listen to them and not to impose on them the ideas he had, but help them to fulfil the desires they have for the betterment of their lives. From that day on King Björn changed his ways and started listening to his people.