The Tale of the Wart King and the Wise Man


This story about finding fulfillment even when you have challenges comes from the book Real Love: The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love & Fulfilling Relationships by Greg Baer.

“Once there was a rich and beautiful kingdom that stretched beyond the horizon in all directions. But the prince of that kingdom was very unhappy. He had warts all over his face, and everywhere he went, people teased him and laughed at him. So he mostly stayed in his room, alone and miserable.

Upon the death of his father, the prince became king and issued a decree that no one — on pain of death — would ever laugh at his warts again. But still he stayed in his room, ashamed and alone. On the rare occasions that he did go out, he put a cloth bag over his head, which covered his warts but also made it difficult for him to see.

After many years, the king heard about a wise man living on the top of a nearby mountain. Hoping the wise man could help him, the king climbed the mountain and found the old man sitting under a tree. Taking the bag off his head, the king said, “I’ve come for your help.”

The wise man looked intently at the king for several long moments and finally said, “You have warts on your face.”

The king was enraged. That was not what he’d come to hear. “No, I don’t,” he screamed. Ashamed and angry, he put the bag back over his head.

“Yes, you do,” said the wise man, gently.

“I’ll have you killed!” shouted the king.

“Call your guards then,” said the wise man.

“My guards aren’t here!” shrieked the king helplessly. “I climbed all the way up this mountain to get your help, and now you tell me I have warts on my face?! How cruel you are!”

Angry and frustrated, the king ran from the wise man, falling repeatedly because he couldn’t see very well with the bag on his head. Finally, the king fell down a steep slope and into a lake, where he began to drown. The wise man jumped in, pulled the king to shore, and took the bag from his head so he could breathe.

The king was horrified when he saw the wise man staring at him. “You’re laughing at me,” said the king.

“Not at all,” said the wise man, smiling.

With his eyes fixed on the ground, the king said, “The boys in the village laughed at me.”

The old man immediately responded: “I’m not one of the boys in the village. That must have been hard for you, being laughed at.”

“Yes, it was,” admitted the king, with tears in his eyes.

“As you can see, I’m not laughing at you,” repeated the wise man.

Somehow this did feel different to the king. As he looked into the lake, he saw his reflection. “I really do have a lot of warts.”

“I know,” said the wise man.

“And you don’t find them disgusting?”

“No, and I don’t find my own warts disgusting anymore, either.”

The king noticed for the first time that the wise man also had warts. “Why do you not wear a bag over your head?”

“I used to,” replied the old man. “But with the bag on my head, I couldn’t see. And I was lonely. So I took it off.”

“Didn’t people laugh at you?” asked the king.

“Oh sure, some did. And I hated that, like you do. But gradually I found a few people who didn’t laugh, and that made me very happy.”

The king was thrilled. No one had ever looked at his warts without laughing at him or showing their disgust. “I think I won’t wear the bag when you’re around.”

The wise man smiled. “When you go home, you might even leave the bag here.”

The king wondered aloud, “Will I find other people like you, who won’t think I’m disgusting?”

The wise man laughed. “Of course you will. And with the love of those people, you won’t care when other people laugh.”

The king dropped the bag on the ground and went back to his kingdom, which was far more beautiful without the bag on his head. And he did find people who didn’t mind his warts at all. He was very happy.

Like the Wart King, we’ve all learned that people express their affection far less when they see our many mistakes and flaws, especially the ones that inconvenience them. So we hide our flaws, which enables us to avoid criticism but also makes it impossible for people to see who we really are. Hiding under the bags we’ve put on our heads, we briefly feel safer, but we also feel quite alone, which is the worst condition of all.


Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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