We all know the expression “knowledge is power” and the fairytale The White Snake by the Brothers Grimm is a good example of it. This is a fairytale about hierarchy, taking something that doesn’t belong to you, love, setting somewhat unrealistic expectations and achieving your goals. Helping others and treating others with kindness are the overwhelming life lessons The White Snake leaves us with.
This is a tale about a servant who found everlasting love with (his master) the King’s daughter. Every evening after his meal, the servant brought a dish to the King to eat in complete privacy; no one knew what was underneath the lid. However, one day the servant became curious and when he was alone in a room with the dish, he took a peek.
Every evening the servant had been taking a snake to the King for him to eat. It was all a bit too tempting for the servant who decided to have a taste. After a single mouthful, the servant began to hear the voices of animals around him. Knowledge of animal conversation – power.
The fairytale continues with the servant listening to and helping various animals…we’ll just ignore his slaughtering of a duck who’d swallowed the Queen’s ring! After all, he was thought to be the thief initially). It reaches a point where he is enchanted by the King’s daughter and falls in love at first sight. The King’s daughter decides she wishes to have a suitor and an open challenge is set for all eligible bachelors to win her affections. Sorry, no “Will you accept this rose?” in this story.
The first challenge is to retrieve a ring that has been tossed into the sea. If he doesn’t succeed, he’ll continually be thrown back in to the sea again and again until he perishes. With the help of fish, he retrieves the ring. The King’s daughter, rather unimpressed, sets a harder challenge for the prospective suitor – retrieving millet-seed strewn across grass.
In despair at the impossibility of the task, he gives up; he has no idea how to collect every single millet-seed. All through the night, ants gathered each seed and returned them to the sacks. Still unimpressed, the King’s daughter sets another challenge – retrieving the Golden Apple from the Tree of Life. Ravens he had helped previously flew to where the tree was and retrieved an apple for him.
Despite being frowned upon for not being of noble class, the King’s daughter was finally impressed and allowed the servant to be her husband. In the end they were madly in love with each other and lived a happy life. Their story of love was told to generations.
The servant was set such unrealistic goals and had to prove his worth. There’s a lesson here about sticking with your goals until you fulfill them, after all that’s when you’re rewarded.
An even greater life lesson to learn from this fairytale is about treating even the smallest of people with respect and kindness, for you never know when you may need their help to overcome an obstacle or remove a blocker. Whilst the servant should not have tasted the snake, in doing so he was able to listen to the conversations and help them fix their troubles. Remember, knowledge is power, yet in no circumstance did the servant abuse it.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is why the fish, ants and ravens helped the servant. Remember the duck? The duck had swallowed the Queen’s ring and in overhearing the duck talk about a pain in his stomach, he dobbed the duck in. As a reward, the servant asked the King for a horse and some money so he could set off and see the world.
On his travels he came across fish gasping for water as they were caught in reeds, overheard ants grumbling about being stood on and raven chicks complaining about starvation after being kicked out of home. The servant helped each one of these animals and in return each one promised to remember him and repay him.
So his selfless generosity and kindness to these animals was repaid in a moment where he felt overwhelmed, like failure was inevitable and didn’t want to admit to needing help. Just like The White Snake fairytale, we will be repaid with kindness from those we have spent time listening to, being understanding of their needs and generous in helping with them.
Understanding and compassion for what people need and being helpful to them – that is powerful.