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Living In The Emperor’s New Clothes

By Robert Hetu | August 17, 2022 | 1 Comment

CIO Leadership, Culture and People

A thought for today, that has nothing to do with retail.  Listening to a commentary on a news program the other day, there was a brief mention of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I cannot remember who or what was being discussed, but the reference to the classic story has remained entrenched in my thoughts this week. I took a few minutes to read and refresh my memory of the story. I am reminded that everything we really need to know we learn in kindergarten. The reason it has stayed with me is that I believe we are living in the emperor’s new clothes. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a children’s fable that highlights the impact of peer pressure on individuals, and the benefit of speaking out. In this story, some crafty swindlers convince the emperor to buy a fabric that is so fine, only wise people can see it. So of course the emperor orders a set of clothes that he cannot see, because he does not want to be considered unwise. His trusted counselors go along with the ruse, everyone ignoring what they see with their own eyes. Everyone cheers as they allow the emperor to march through the town naked. Finally, a child in the crowd speaks the truth that the emperor is naked, and this opens a floodgate of ridicule.   

The Emperor’s New Clothes | Full Movie | Fairy Tales For Children Watch Uploaded by: Geethanjali Kids - Rhymes and Stories, Nov 11, 2016
Photo credit The Emperor’s New Clothes | Full Movie | Fairy Tales For Children Watch Uploaded by: Geethanjali Kids – Rhymes and Stories, Nov 11, 2016

Who Is The Emperor?

From my perspective, its not just one emperor, but most news and social media entities, reporters, influencers, politicians, movie and music stars, and athletes.  Some likely also live within your organization. Most of these emperors, on any side of an issue, are busy building a false narrative using some data points that masquerade as truth. Sometimes it may be overall for the greater good, sometimes its clearly not, but often the outcome is murky. Its always designed to carefully curate selected facts, half truths and lies to reinforce a position. Its a fill-in-the-blank formula: I believe ______, because my data point shows______, and if you do not agree you are_______. Frequently the argument is designed specifically to shut down conversation and debate, often using a similar device as the fable, being unwise. All that’s required is to fill-in-the-blank, “if you do not agree you are”, with words like radical, bigoted, too old, too young, lazy, too liberal, too conservative, or just anti-whatever. Unfortunately on today’s social media the pejoratives get much, much worse.  

Truth Is The Victim 

I often hear people equate a fact to truth. First, lets agree that a single fact is only truth to the extent of what it represents. This is why most legal systems are designed around evidence gathering, presentation and debate. For example, if the location services on my phone indicated that I was near to the scene of a crime, that may be a fact, but it does not support a conclusion that I committed the crime. In this type of legal system, there’s a collection of facts, that is then debated, and a conclusion is eventually reached. Now, all this would be fine if that was how the larger world worked, but we don’t operate with the same degree of structure in everyday lives. Hopefully we do not allow just one side’s interpretation of facts, because there is a tendency to find and then only project facts that support a point of view. (Finger pointing at mirror).

We Are Living In The Emperor’s New Clothes     

Today I am afraid that we must take everything our aforementioned emperors say with a grain of salt. We have landed in a spot where one of the emperors makes a statement, and their adherents on social media, or in the press, parrot the statements as truth. This reinforces and emboldens the emperor to continue to proudly wear no clothes.  Of course I am being generous that it starts with a single fact, as we see today a fact is not even required.  Unlike the fairy tale, this leads us to far more dangerous territory than just ridicule. We must restore faith through honest and open debate, embrace of free speech and openness to new ideas. As the people, our only hope is an unbiased media that will gather the pertinent facts, and present them to us in a way that we, the people, can evaluate to form an opinion. We need the news media to take back its role of mediator, not parroting whatever side they believe, but holding all parties accountable and enabling the people to make informed decisions.                 

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  • Ellen Grace Zosa Gallares says:

    I am glad to read this as it exactly described the situation I am in – “Its always designed to carefully curate selected facts, half truths and lies to reinforce a position”. Thanks for this wisdom – Emperor’s clothing.