2016 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place
The Power of Intention

"The Queen Swallow's Gift", a Korean folktale retold by Suzanne Crowder Han, is about the relationship between two brothers after the unfortunate loss of their father. Nol-bu, the eldest brother, is self-centered and egotistical; he coerces his brother, Hung-bu, and family to leave their shared dwelling. In the end, it is Nol-bu who suffers an undesirable outcome, a consequence that he deserves. The literal meaning of the story follows the relationship between these two brothers, but the reader may infer a deeper lesson. The folktale "The Queen Swallow's Gift" brings to our attention the importance of authenticity and exuding one's finest qualities into the world. This short story addresses the theory of karma and how one's behavior can influence the actions of others. What one receives is often a reflection of what one gives, even if these exchanges are very subtle.

Nol-bu and Hung-bu's elderly father is described as a wealthy landowner at the beginning of the tale. Shortly before he passes, he asks one request of his sons; that the two of them and their families "...live in harmony together, and share everything equally." Nol-bu, greedy and condescending, withholds his late father's valuables in contradiction of his father's wishes. Thereafter, Nol-bu and his wife treat Hung-bu's family as if they are servants. Hung-bu's wife is forced to prepare food, clean, and wash clothing while his children run errands and complete chores. The final example of Nol-bu's greed is when he leaves Hung-bu's family to live in a small, dilapidated shelter. Hung-bu finds odd jobs around the village, and his wife and children gather wild vegetables and berries. As the story later reveals, the integrity, or lack thereof, that we exhibit often comes full circle.

The idea of one's actions being pure and without pretense is addressed throughout the tale. Intentions that are not genuinely altruistic often result in a negative outcome. Nol-bu is inauthentic and cruel; poetic justice is served as we learn that he is deserving of his fate. He has a family of swallows living in his home and breaks one of the swallow's legs. In hopes of receiving a seed as a thank you, Nol-bu performs a "friendly deed" by fixing the petite bird's leg. The following spring, the same bird returns with a seed for Nol-bu. The seed Nol-bu receives is rancid. In contrast, Hung-bu's incentive is genuine. He fixes a swallow's leg expecting nothing in return. Hung-bu's family is relieved to see the swallows arrive, for they symbolize spring. Ironically, Hung-bu receives a seed that is beneficial to his well-being. These examples illustrate the idea of karma, and if one is solely incentivized by personal gain, it rarely yields the results one strives to attain.

The theme of karma is further explored through the Queen Swallow and her gifts. Hung-bu's seed is a gift from the Queen Swallow to repay his kindness, which grows into three large gourds attached to a vine. When the time comes to saw open the gourds, Hung-bu and his wife are shocked to discover a pile of gold and silver coins, precious jewels, and silk fabrics in the first gourd. The second gourd holds plentiful sacks of rice, and tiny carpenters march out of the third gourd to construct a much larger and more charming home. Much like Hung-bu, Nol-bu plants his seed which grows into three large gourds. Nol-bu and his wife are delighted, predicting that their gourds will contain valuables identical to those Hung-bu receives. Unfortunately, to Nol-bu's surprise, the gourds are full of beggars, putrid soil, and ogres, all of which annihilate their home. Pure altruism and selfish intention are clearly distinguished.

"The Queen Swallow's Gift" serves as a reminder of the importance of integrity and good intention. At the age of six, my kindergarten teacher asked the class to exercise integrity while she stepped out of the classroom. We then discussed the meaning of the word. The lesson made an impression on me, and as I evolve, I am reminded regularly of its importance. Genuine motivation and doing the right thing when no one is watching leads to trust by those with whom one interacts. Perhaps this folktale was shared at points when societal populations were struggling with personal accountability. The message reminds its listeners of the importance of the ownership of behavioral choices. The story suggests that human action has consequences that are larger than society. In the tale, Nol-bu's intentions are narcissistic while Hung-bu repeatedly displays selflessness, expecting nothing in return. Hung-bu instinctively finds the positive in situations, even when it comes to being slapped by a rice scoop and ultimately finding forgiveness for his brother. This leads one to contemplate if what goes around truly comes around, and the power of karma. Karma is defined as "the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences." "The Queen Swallow's Gift", as retold by Suzanne Crowder Han, serves as a commentary on the potential power of karma as it relates to the lives of brothers Hung-bu and Nol-bu. The authenticity with which humans live is of vastly greater importance than the acquisition of financial wealth, power and status.