By Tim Middleton
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there lived a beautiful and rich young lady, who would one day inherit a glorious inheritance.
She had loving parents who wanted only the best for her; they hand-picked all the finest clothes for her and took her to all the best resorts. Soon, the time came when they had to choose a husband who would be worthy of her. Many suitors came from afar, eager to win her over. Her parents considered all the well-known suitors, the well-connected, the rich, the athletic, the good-looking, the clever, the smart, the saintly. They visited them in their castles and homes, their holiday homes and their grounds; they saw on the walls all the signs of glorious victories with swords, banners and trophies; they heard stirring stories of glorious deeds and watched exciting tournaments complete with pageantry and huge crowds. They listened to courtiers and kings and lords extol the virtues of their great contender. Yet it was too difficult to choose between them all.
In the end, they realised they would have to conduct a test, a competition, and the winner would take their fair daughter’s hand in marriage. It was a simple test: each contender had to show that he had the X-Factor, that he had that something special that would make him stand above all others. There was great rejoicing at this announcement all around the country as each contender eagerly awaited the opportunity to show he was the one. And so the journey began.
The first challenger arrived and revealed he had the X-Factor as he was eXalted above all others — he always came first in everything he did, which only made her parents sad and worried as they wanted one who would put their daughter first. He once again was first, this time to depart.
The second contender declared that he had the X-Factor as he eXcelled in everything he did — in learning, in fighting, in music — but the parents realised that if he did all this, he would have no time for their daughter. He went away sad and distraught, excelling even in that.
The third one announced that although he did not win or succeed in everything, he could always provide a valid eXcuse. While marvelling at his ingenuity, her parents left him to find another excuse.
The fourth suitor enthusiastically revealed that he alone could bring great eXcitement to life, no matter what would happen. He would take her to beautiful places and do amazing things with her among fascinating people. Her parents called their attendants to dismiss him because he could not hear their refusal as he would not stop talking.
The fifth brave man brought a long record of all the achievements he had done, proving by his eXploits that he was the one and only. He had colours and medals and scars and trophies the like of which had never been seen. Her parents concluded that he also would never be seen by his daughter and left him to exploit more people.
The sixth courtier came and proceeded to narrate an amazing web of stories with himself in the middle, believing that his eXaggeration would surely impress and seduce the daughter. The parents quickly dismissed him as their daughter would never know truth from lies.
The seventh and last, a young man from a little-known town called Zambebwi, entered quietly, picking up the certificates that the previous suitor had cast aside on his way out. He waited for the parents to speak. They were surprised that he did not launch into a long litany of his talents or achievements.
Eventually they had to ask him why he should be the one to have their daughter’s hand. Without hesitation yet without bravado, he quietly declared that he loved her.
The parents looked at each other. They had found the one with the X Factor — he would lead their daughter by eXample.
His education had won him a bachelorette. He had learned what was important in life. And the two lived humbly ever after.
Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.