Monthly Archives: July 2015

Modern Lessons from a Medieval Wardrobe Disaster

This week, I did a post on the patterns of life found in the tale “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” Feeling (overly) satisfied with the piece and listening to Crispian St. Peters’ 1966 “Pied Piper” playing in the background, I thought I’d tackle another tale.

Today’s tale is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” A high-level summary follows:

A very rich emperor has a wardrobe crisis and feels he needs some new royal robes. Enter a strange tailor from another land with his unusual assistant. He tells the emperor of a wonderful thread he has that can be used to create the most splendid clothes that only the wise and wonderful and smart can see. Of course, the emperor wants these clothes. He pays a king’s ransom to the tailor who sets up his loom and begins to move all the pieces. As the days and weeks follow, the tailor makes all kinds of statements about his progress and how the robes look. The king’s stewards, advisors, servers, maids, stable hands, and other household servants are called throughout the time of robe creation to review the tailor’s work (no, I don’t know what happened to the usual tailor). Of course, no one sees anything, but no one wants to admit they can’t see anything, so the robes are colorful and regal and have beautiful weaving patterns. At the end, when the tailor declares his work finished, he and his assistant dress the emperor in his new robes. While the emperor prepares a parade to show off his robes, the strange tailor and unusual assistant leave town. The parade steps off without a hitch. As the emperor goes along the parade either in his underwear or naked, no one says anything but how beautiful the clothes are, how colorful the robe is, how unusual the weaving pattern is, how utterly and stunningly regal the emperor looks. It isn’t until the end of the parade when a young child around the age of 5 or 6 looks at his father and in a whisper that could drown out the roar of a lion asks the man, “Why is the emperor naked (or in his underwear)?”

On to the lessons:

Pride is a powerful motivator

We all like to think we are wise, smart, rich, and wonderful to everyone around us. We don’t like to admit we are human and we have shortcomings. Through the power of pride, we try all kinds of things to make ourselves look at least as good as if not better than everyone else.

Peer pressure is also a powerful motivator

No one wants to stand alone. We all want to be part of the pack and run with the herd. It takes a lot of energy and effort to stand alone and think differently and act decisely. Sometimes, it’s easier to give in simply because everyone is doing or thinking or saying something and we don’t want to be challenged for being unique.

Group think cultivates deceit

If everyone in a group thinks and acts and speaks the same way, it’s very easy for a charlatan of counterfeit to ride in and paint the world not as it is but as he thinks it is (or wants it to be). No one will dissent and no one will see the pattern that the counterfeit is painting. However, in a pluralistic group with many views and opinions, deceit can be dashed because each perspective will see the scenario differently and a more reasoned view of reality can be achieved.

A king’s ransom may not be so

The emperor paid a very large price for the invisible robes without any proof. If someone wants to charge an exorbitant fee for what seems like an easy job and they want all the money up front, ask lots of questions. Things may not be what they seem.

Kids say the darndest things

This line used to be the name of a television show that collected and displayed the things kids thought and said. Usually they were cute and sometimes they were quite profound. In this case, only the child had the courage to speak the truth of the matter.

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Modern Lessons from a Medieval Musician in a Children’s Tale

I’ve been thinking about children’s tales lately. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the lessons of patterns for adult life that are built into these old stories.

Through a series of unusual topics and non-sequiturs in a conversation with my oldest daughter, we covered mice and the Black Plague and finally we talked about “The Pied Piper of Hamlin Town.”

A high-level summary:

Medieval town is plagued by mice. Everyone knows it’s a problem, but no one seems to know what to do or how to get started. A stranger in every sense of the word waltzes into town. He dresses funny because his clothes don’t match, he plays an unusual flute, and he has a touch of oddness about him. He tells the town council he can rid them of their problem without giving any details, and then he asks an exorbitant price. Everyone agrees. He plays a waltz that has the mice and other rodents hypnotically boogieing out of town and jumping gleefully to their deaths in the nearby river. He comes back and asks for his pay. Everyone is so boggled by the oddity and simplicity of the solution and their lack of funds that they refuse to pay him. He begs and pleads. Ignored and unanswered, he leaves a deadline with an air of threat in it. When the deadline passes without a peep, he appears and plays a different tune that causes all the children to follow him out of town. The parents are powerless to stop the children. He leads them into a cave, never to be seen again. The sole survivor of this incident is a handicapped (disabled in modern parlance) child.

As my daughter and I talked about the lessons in this story, I thought of the following:

Count the cost.

Before you begin a project or enter into an agreement, you need to look at your resources–time, talent, and treasure. You need to be sure those resources will suffice to carry you through the entire project or agreement physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Sometimes the simple solution suffices.

Admittedly, in the real world, playing music doesn’t make the rodents or bad things disappear (I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried). However, the song was simple. As analogy, sometimes the best solution isn’t the latest drug or the most promising software or the newest gadget; the best answer is time or solid work or rest.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

In the old days, a man was as good as his word. If his word was good, people trusted him. Be sure you can keep any vow, oath, or promise you make. Like a Great Teacher once said (in my own inimitable paraphrase), “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Anything else is a crock and attempt at deceit.”

Different doesn’t mean stupid.

People, especially bullies and people who feel lousy about themselves, have a tendency of targeting those who are different as stupid or easy marks for fraudulent games. The hero of this story dressed funny and had a slightly different skill. The people of Hamlin tried to take advantage of his oddness. It did not end well.

Sometimes a curse is really a blessing.

I’ll bet there were days when the parents of that disabled kid felt really awful. I will bet the neighbors made fun of them or clucked their tongues about secret sins and punishment. On that day, when all the kids disappeared, the town’s treatment of the parents probably did not change, but those parents still had their greatest blessing alive and well to be with them.

Not Yet Dog Days of Summer

It’s one of those summers.

I have a child with an immobilized arm (“Let’s go to beach A; it’s the best and the gentlest for non-swimmers!” I’ll take, “Yeah, Right, with a Side of an ER Co-Pay for $200,” Alex.). I have a project list that is so long I feel like I might be trying to finish it as a zombie in a few decades. I have a brain that just doesn’t want to think any grand thoughts or put together any ideas in a unique and fun-to-read way.

I miss the summer over two decades ago where I was churning out poems one a week (in my own tiny and neat cursive). That one, the bright and dazzling one… every poem was about deep peace and great light and had the phrase “bright and dazzling” somewhere.

I miss the semester graduate course where we read feminist literature and wrote our responses in journals. To be told by a PhD that your ideas were so fresh and unique and showed her the world in a way she’d never seen is incredibly intoxicating and embarrassing and refreshing.

I don’t know why I’m not having any grand thoughts. Maybe it’s that needed hysterectomy that is looming closer. All those hormone shifts can’t be very good for my brain. Maybe I’m just too booked and need to find some time away from everyone by myself. Maybe I’m just not getting enough art, literature, and music to enrich my environment to jog the neurons loose. Maybe it’s the series of events that can best be summarized by the statement: Different decade, different faces, same places, same bull sh1+.

What are your thoughts? What do you do when nothing seems to materialize and it’s time to write?

Please, please, please — share. Maybe it’ll jostle something into the right places.