Friday, July 24, 2015

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paolo Friere

Here is the initial synopsis of Hans Christian Andersen's tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes," from Wikipedia:
[It] is a short tale by Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that he doesn't see any suit of clothes until a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" 
For those interested in truth versus narrative, or the social dynamics of power, one of the most interesting parts of the story has been left out. In Wikipedia's fuller description of the plot, the important conclusion to the story is included:
Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspects the assertion is true, but continues the procession.
The procession continues.

Most people tell this story as way of emphasizing the need to regain a child-like purity of vision, to be able to see and tell the truth, even when everyone else is pretending and going along with a lie. And of how we easily we can be manipulated by being told that if we were smart enough, then we'd believe that lie that others are telling us.

But there is more.

Do we recognize the truth, either initially like the child, or ultimately like the crowd, but stand idly by as the procession continues?

Do we say, "well, that's just the way things are?"

Or are we sometimes even holding up the imaginary cloth, part of the continued procession, because we depend on the King's support?

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