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The Message is What Matters, Not the Messenger


Photo by S. on Unsplash

In a small village nestled in the mountains of Japan, there lived a young man named Kenji. He was known throughout the village for his incredible speed and agility. From a young age, Kenji had dreamed of becoming a legendary messenger, carrying important missives between villages and even to the capital city of Edo.


Kenji trained tirelessly every day, honing his running skills. He could sprint up the steepest mountain paths without losing his breath. He navigated treacherous forest trails by moonlight. In time, word of his talent spread and he was recruited to be an official messenger for the region.


Kenji took great pride in his new role. With his satchel of scrolls strapped to his back, he raced between villages delivering messages, announcements, and decrees from the local daimyo. He relished the awed looks on people's faces when they saw how fast he could appear and disappear on the horizon.


Over time, this pride began to swell into arrogance. Kenji looked down on the other messengers, seeing them as slow and inferior. He boasted loudly about his speed to anyone who would listen. "No one can match my pace," he would declare. "I'm the fastest messenger in all of Japan!"


One day, the daimyo called Kenji to his palace for an important mission. "I need you to carry this scroll to Edo," the daimyo told him gravely, placing the scroll in Kenji's hands. "It contains a critical military communication. You must deliver it to the Shogun himself with utmost haste. The fate of our province may depend on it."


Kenji bowed low, his chest swelling with importance. This was the mission that would make his name legendary! He tucked the scroll securely in his satchel and set off at once, racing down the road in a blur.


For two days Kenji ran, stopping only briefly to eat and sleep. At last the great city of Edo appeared on the horizon, its grand palace rising above the sea of rooftops. Exhausted but elated, Kenji marched up to the palace gates and presented himself to the guards.


"I bear an urgent message for the Shogun from the daimyo of Shinano Province," he announced importantly. "I've made the journey from the mountains in only two days - a feat no other messenger could match!"


But to Kenji's shock, the guards barely glanced at him. "The Shogun is in a meeting. Wait over there." Kenji was pointed to a bench in the courtyard where a dozen other messengers already sat waiting. Kenji reluctantly took a seat, seething at this treatment. Did they not realize who he was?


Hours passed. Afternoon turned to evening. One by one the other messengers were summoned inside to deliver their messages. But not Kenji. By the time night fell, he was the only one left waiting. Hungry, sore and exhausted, Kenji finally swallowed his pride and approached a guard.


"Please, when can I see the Shogun? My message is extremely urgent," he pleaded.


The guard gave him a quizzical look. "Let me see the scroll." Kenji handed it over and the guard unrolled it, squinting at it in the torchlight. He frowned. "This is dated two weeks ago. The military situation it describes has completely changed. I'm afraid this information is no longer relevant."


Kenji's heart dropped into his stomach as the meaning sunk in. While he had been congratulating himself on his record-setting speed, the critical window for his message had passed. By the time he arrived, it was too late. The guard handed the scroll back to Kenji with a shrug. "You can lodge in the messengers' quarters tonight and begin your journey back in the morning."


Dejected, Kenji wandered into the messengers' lodge. Inside, he was surprised to see some of the same messengers who had been waiting with him earlier, now sitting around laughing and talking over bowls of soup. Noticing Kenji, one of them waved him over.


"Ah, you finally made it in! Come, sit, the cook just brought us some dinner. You must be famished after your long journey."


Kenji hesitated, then joined them. As he ate, he listened to the other messengers swap stories of the roads, the hardships they endured, the odd characters they met. Many of them, he realized, had come even further than he had. And none of them seemed to feel the need to boast about their speed or denigrate others.


"How do you bear it?" Kenji asked suddenly. "Waiting for hours, just to deliver a message that may not even be important anymore?"


The others looked at him with sympathy. The eldest messenger, a wiry man with a face creased by years of sun and wind, leaned forward.


"It's not easy," he said. "We all want to believe that our job is the most important thing. That we are indispensable. But the truth is, the message is what matters, not the messenger."


He shook his head with a smile. "I've seen so many young runners like you over the years, so proud, so sure the world waited on their every step. But in time you realize - we are only servants. Servants to the messages we carry, to the lords we work for, to the people who depend on us. There is no place for an ego in this work. Only for humility and dedication to the task."


Kenji stared at his empty bowl. The old man's words echoed those of his old teacher, who had tried so many times to temper Kenji's pride. "You are the messenger, not the message," he used to say. How arrogant Kenji had been to ignore those words.


The next morning, Kenji set out for the long journey home, his satchel empty but his mind and heart full. He thought of the daimyo's crestfallen face when he would learn of Kenji's failure. He thought of all the people along his route who had cheered him on, believing that his speed alone would save the day.


With each step, he felt the weight of his hubris, the shame of having let everyone down. But he also felt a new sense of resolve. No longer would he treat his duty as a game to win glory for himself. From now on, he would dedicate himself humbly to being the best messenger he could be, not the most celebrated. He would respect his fellow messengers and learn from their wisdom. And he would always remember that what he carried was far more important than how fast he could run.


As the sun rose over the hills of Shinano, Kenji squared his shoulders and quickened his pace, hurrying to deliver news of his lesson learned. He was no legend, just a man - one of many messengers crisscrossing Japan, honoring their duty with each step. And that, he now understood, was more than enough.


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The moral of this story is that pride and arrogance can lead to downfall, and true success comes from humility and dedication to one's duty. Kenji was so focused on being the fastest messenger that he failed to understand the true importance of his job. He was meant to be a humble servant to the messages he carried, not the message itself. The lesson to be learned is that humility is key and it is not about how fast or how famous we are, but about how we serve others and fulfill our duties to the best of our abilities.

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