A Tale of the Lotus

Once there was a lotus flower with some very special talents. The lotus is a beautiful, rare and delicate flower, usually quite shy. But this lotus was not at all shy, this lotus reached out to others, wanted to shine. In fact, it wanted to shine so much that it really wanted to be alone in the spotlight.

Lotuses are slow to reproduce, and as the fame of the lotus grew, it needed to have more and more copies of itself available, so it found a way of reproducing itself that required only making a small slash in the stem.

The slash method helped spread the fame and success of the lotus. So much so that other flowers tried to imitate it, especially its slash technique. This made the lotus angry. “My method is unique,” it said. “When you look at me, and smell my perfume, you feel a special way. It’s my look and feel, and you can’t copy it.” At least one species of flower died trying to copy the slash method, so fiercely did the lotus battle against it.

The success of the lotus continued to grow and spread, and with it, the pride, glory and power of this normally shy flower also grew to enourmous proportions.

One day, an artist was wandering in the lotus’ forest. Although he knew of this famous, exceptional flower, he was not specially seeking it. As he wandered, he happened to come upon the lotus, in all its splendour. “Oh, how beautiful!” he exclaimed. “I would like to paint you, and put your image on screens covered with rice paper, so that people who aren’t able to care for plants as delicate as you might also be able to enjoy the beauty and splendour of your existence.”

“Nonsense,” responded the lotus. It had heard that in the city there was a new idea that decorated screens could bring the vivid experience of nature to places and people who lacked room, finances, or talent for gardening. “This just a passing fashion. My beauty and fragrance will endure for ever.”

Disappointed, the artist continued on his way. Unbeknownst to the lotus, however, the artist had retained a vivid impression of the lotus in his visual memory. When he returned to his studio, the artist immediately began to paint one of his screens. Mindful of the flower that had died trying to copy the lotus’ slash method, the artist, who called himself Turnstile, to represent the wooden entry gates used in fashionable gardens of his day, did not totally copy the appearance of the lotus, but tried to create a new flower, based on the eternal qualities of elegance and beauty that his model represented.

Turnstile painted and painted, and produced many different versions of his new lotus. With his talent, he soon began to excel at painting this new flower. People flocked to buy his rice paper screens and adorn their homes with them. When he came up with the idea to paint the lotus as if it were viewed from a window, looking out into a garden, Turnstile’s reputation was made. Soon he sold many more of his window screens than the Lotus could reproduce with its slash method.

The lotus, meanwhile, was getting older and exhausting its resources. As time went on, it’s beauty waned, it’s fragrance dissipated. All the lotuses made from the slash method were, of course, genetically identical, and suffered the same decline. More and more people abandoned cultivating their lotus gardens in favour of Turnstile’s window screens, which didn’t lose their beauty, and only needed a careful dusting now and then.

Sad, lonely, and bitter in its decline, the lotus was soon forgotten and passed into oblivion unnoticed. Its descendants live on into our modern times, still occupying a somewhat visible niche as host plants for new generations of flowers. They no longer have the power to influence the world, but exist under the protection of a kind giant who took them under his wing many years ago.

The look and feel of the original lotus has left us, along with the creative talent that brought its unimaginable beauty to the world of our ancestors. Turnstile’s window screens are all that is left of testimony to the glory of days gone by, and as Turnstile could not paint the lotus in its full splendour, what remains can only leave us with an impression of what that era must have been like.

PS: Any resemblance in this parable to persons or characters, living, dead, or inanimate, is purely “coincidental.”

Author: Ray

Ray Gallon is president and co-founder of The Transformation Society (www.transformationsociety.net), a research, training and consulting company focusing on building learning organisations that can manage complexity and the digital transformation. He has over 40 years as a communicator, first as an award-winning radio producer and journalist, then in the technical content industries. His management experience includes a stint as program manager of WNYC-FM, New York City’s public radio station. Ray is a self-described "humanist nerd," and has always been interested in the meeting point between technology and culture, and has used his broad experience to advantage with companies such as IBM, General Electric Health Care, Alcatel, 3M, and the OECD, as well as in smaller companies and startup enterprises. Ray recently helped co-found the Information 4.0 Consortium (www.information4zero.org) and serves as its current president. Ray is a university lecturer and a keynote speaker at events throughout the world. He has contributed articles and chapters to many books and periodicals and is the editor of the recently published “Language of Technical Communication” (XML Press).

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