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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