Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Naked Emperor

What really happened after the little girl pointed out that the emperor had no clothes on.....

Or: What do you really fear?

As the Emperor paraded through the streets surrounded by his entourage and flunkies, the crowd cheered and waved their flags.  And although some of them felt something wasn't right they couldn't quite put their finger on it.

For the most part, however, they were enjoying the event.  They loved the pomp and ceremony, the display of wealth and glamour.  This, after all, was their country, and it was proof of their abundance and wealth.  It was occasions like this that made them feel proud; proud to be a citizen.  To be able to work together for their future and for a stable and secure existence.  

They respected their emperor; how he ruled them, thought for them, decided what was in their best interests.  He deserved the riches and the privileges that he enjoyed, for he took on the responsibility of organisation, he made difficult decisions in their best interests; and it was those decisions that enabled them to live fairly comfortable lives, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't be attacked or left to cope alone if they were sick, or had fallen on hard times. He made sure that his citizens always had just enough to keep them from death and starvation and that they had plenty to do to keep them occupied and busy - all working to keep their kingdom in a happy and stable state.

And here, today, was evidence of the importance, wisdom and superiority of their great leader.  Dressed in his finery, flanked by his flunkeys; exuding nobility and excellence.  There.  Right there, was the proof of their prosperity.  He had employed the finest tailors who had woven the most excellent of cloths in order to produce a magnificent suit that surpassed anything that had ever been worn by anyone.  It was proof that he was truly a great man of utmost discernment and insight.  This man knew quality, genius and artistry, so he deserved to enjoy the best of everything.

They knew that this was the truth because the emperor knew better than them; he was much more discerning and clever than they.  And only a truly stupid person would question the man and his brilliance; no-one would be foolhardy enough to call into doubt his suitability and right to such riches and privilege. 

However, here and there, some of the members of the crowd didn't cheer quite so hard or smile quite so widely;  there was a sparkle missing from their eyes; and every now and then a doubtful thought would flick across their mind and a slight frown would mar their adoring faces.  

Then, in the midst of all this, one lone little voice piped up and spoke what was clearly obvious "That man has no clothes on!".

This innocent child ran through the streets shouting and laughing "THAT MAN HAS NO CLOTHES ON!!".  And as the child called out, the odd person looked and saw that, indeed, the emperor was absolutely stark naked. And they joined in and shouted "What a pompous ass!", "What a ridiculous stupid buffoon.  Just look at him! Pretending to be someone important".  "He's no different to me - in fact he's even more stupid than I", "How could I have ever believed in him?".

Some of the dissenting voices in the crowd tried to make the people around them see that the emperor had not a stitch on. And occasionally as the protesting one or two repeated their assertion of the truth, they managed to jolt a few others out of the delusion.  

They looked in astonishment at the ridiculous spectacle.

Some of these shook their heads and headed home.  

Some joined in the small but growing group of the rebellers, but most people shrugged off their words with irritability, and annoyance that this wonderful day was being marred by such futile negativity.  So they went back to cheering, savouring this brief respite in their humdrum lives.  

For they were afraid.  Afraid that if their emperor really was naked they would have to face up to something much more uncomfortable than the ugly spectacle of his bloated body; they would have to make their own decisions and find their own way; or find someone to replace this man that ruled them.  And that was a scary and uncomfortable prospect, and didn't seem to have any point to it, because the alternative might very well be worse.

So they went on cheering; this time more fervently.  Their cries rang out, but even to themselves, there was just a  slight edge of desperation and hysteria, which they justified as being nothing more than wholehearted enjoyment of the holiday.  Because tomorrow there would be no cheering, little laughter or celebration; tomorrow they would return to their jobs and their routine.  But also to safety and security.

And those people that had seen the obvious?  

Well, some looked around desperately - terrified of being cast out and ostracised; so they chose to pretend that they could see the clothes - and it was these that cheered and applauded the loudest.  For now they had to try twice as hard; once to convince others that they believed the delusion and once to keep trying to convince themselves.  Their pay-off was inclusion and an easy life, even if it meant that the words they spoke were hollow and inauthentic.  They considered it a small price to pay.

Some of them grew angry and shouted and railed against the lies that they'd been told.  They were angry at themselves too - for being so stupid and believing the lies for so long.  Generally, either their anger wore out and they stayed on the edges of their society, neither able to believe nor able to walk away.  Or they spent their time and energy trying to show everyone else the truth that they had seen and which was so obvious.  Mostly they were ignored, laughed at or marginalised.  Sometimes, the very effective ones made some headway and then they were imprisoned or cast-out for being dissenters and traitors - a threat to the many.  For surely, if most people believed something that meant it had to be true - because the alternative was that something was really wrong with the entire structure of their kingdom and that couldn't be entertained as a viable possibility.

Some of the truth-seers turned and walked away. They left the kingdom and they found their own way of living; a way that was at times uncomfortable and scary, because it meant that they had to face reality and not take anyone else's word for what needed to be done.  It meant that they no longer could pretend to be something or someone that they knew they weren't.  And at times, it was lonely.  But it also meant that they didn't have to keep themselves hidden and that they didn't have to live amongst others saying one thing but knowing another. 

And they didn't need to be afraid that they would be ostracised or ridiculed.  They had nothing to fear, because they'd chosen to walk away with their eyes open.  They had made the choice to not be affected by the ridicule, because they had realised that the ridicule of the scared and deluded was a sure indication that they were on the right track; to want the approbation of people that believed a lie was pointless.

And the child?  Well, the child ran off into the fields and picked flowers, climbed a tree, watched the clouds and made up wonderful stories that they would one day tell to their children.  Stories of stupid men who believed they were something they weren't and of a lot of other people who believed it too and of an innocent child who wasn't afraid to speak the truth.

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