You remember the childhood story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” written by Hans Christian Andersen. For years, I felt that the people who pretended to see the Emperor in new clothes were shallow and stupid. Then, I thought that many would deem me stupid for having the guts to say that he was naked. Perhaps they were just covering their butts or concerned about revealing a vulnerability. If nothing else, please note that how the ‘bad guy’ exploited the human misconception about revealing the truth. If open and honest communication had been a part of this kingdom—the gig would have been up for those frauds in about five minutes! Ultimately, it did not matter that I told the truth if the person who was parading around naked chose to believe that he was attired in the greatest finery. He had to live up to an unrealistic expectation imposed on him by fear and self-denial. Subsequently, this “crowd” was deceived into believing the lie. Further, I have experienced along with many others the impact of how little white lies can grow to major negative influences that can move us further and further away from the truth. Sometimes in small steps, sometimes in larger ones. Regardless of the increments that move us away, the result is that we can reach a point where we are so far away from the truth that it becomes hard to even believe that it exists any more. It is, after all, easier to believe the lie than it is to argue with the king.
Recognizing and then telling the Emperor that he is naked can be bad, especially in our age where truth is becoming less relevant. In these instances, you have to be able to ‘pretend’ that the Emperor does, in fact, have on “new clothes” and that they are the most wonderful items ever to be worn on the human body. Some people believe that is the best way to live. I, however, have difficulties with this. Subsequently, I have come to the realization that the ethics that I would like to display are lost in the translational muck of political correctness. Interestingly enough, how I felt about the situation was summarized recently in a television rerun of the show called “The Closer” that airs on TNT on Monday nights. In this show, the main character played by Kyra Sedgwick is that of Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, LAPD’s finest police detective. However, at the end of last season, her credibility as an effective detective (pardon the rhyme), was questioned and she made the following comment right before she met with her superiors to see if she was going to get fired. Though this is not verbatim, essentially she said, “In my job, I have to find the truth. In order to do my job well, sometimes I am not politically correct. But, you cannot do both and still get to the truth.” And, she really does get to the truth even though it may have cost her the job that she loved. Why is this type of character only being portrayed on television and the ‘real world’ wants you to look the other way when the King is in his skivvies parading about town? This hit home. Hard.
It brings me back to the fact that no matter how often I turn my head away from the naked Emperor—I am still compelled to say aloud in front of the whole crowd, “BUT HE’S NAKED!” Therefore, I get into trouble even when the King is satisfying his ego at the expense of his subjects. Go figure! I cannot help but notice this paradox and it is increasingly becoming more difficult to find a place where I belong that is in line with my level of expectations and integrity with only those situations that want to conform to not just the story we learned as children to make us play nice, but that actually wants us to really play nice on a much grander scale—in business, in life, in love, in all things. But, where are these places? Have we traded any sense of real world ethics for honest imaginary television characters? Or was it all just fairy tale anyway?
At some point, don’t we have to ask ourselves why are we still watching the parade when our leader is naked? Sometimes, is it really better to leave the parade than to be stuck with the mess after the party is over? Amazing how many questions a little comment about ethics can generate, huh? So, how about this one—should a leader ever think that it is appropriate to lie to himself or to his subjects? Maybe to rule as a King is different from leading the people. After all, to lead implies that you are helping others to follow the right path NOT waiting for others to admire you. Right? Please someone agree so that all hope is not lost! There must truly be some others out there who are tired of the games and really want to see the best that we all can be through honest evaluation and the promotion of true ethical standards. So, the question becomes a matter of well thought-out actions on my part. Do I not attend the parade? Should I have expected to see the King naked? Do I leave the parade if I show up and the King is naked? Do I hand the King a pair of pants in public and potentially get my head lopped off? Is there another way, especially one that simply allows me to go about my business without all of these questions? (Smile.) Though I guess there are times when your only choice is to move on, where is the line between honoring the ‘King’ and doing the right thing in the big picture other than simply walking away? If we choose to attend the parade, we may find that we have to tell the King publicly that he is dressed to the hilt, even when he is not. But privately, we may want to discuss the issue more truthfully. In doing so, we save the King’s face even though we all know that he prefers ‘tighty whities’ to boxers! But do we really save the King’s face? I’d rather a ‘friend’ told me to my face what they thought than to hear a lie. Especially if the truth is being discussed just outside my earshot. Gossip does not elicit change...actions do.
Ultimately, the real problem is, how can we make that change and do we have any authority to do so? If we are not in the King’s court, we would not have any influence. If we are in the King’s court, why didn’t we tell him he was naked before he went to the parade? The song says that “…everybody plays a fool sometimes…”, but how many people have to look the other way before someone has the courage to do the right thing?
Do we keep telling our children to do as we say and not as we do? Do we teach our children how to lie through our actions and then not understand when they do? Do we tell them to be one with the world but then make sure they stay away from the new neighbors from “fill in currently politically incorrect population, age, country, religion, straight status, dress size, etc.” because we don’t know “their kind”? Do we keep law on the books that promotes one race over the other while not protecting others in the same way? Do we teach our children about how smoking can harm you but fail to tell them about the sanctity of marriage or that of a human life or the humanity of another? Do we spend our money on the finest of things when others go hungry?
Honesty hurts. I have learned that sometimes it is necessary to move out of the crowd and give the Emperor a pair of pants! If he humbly takes them, there is hope and I would serve Him with my last breadth. If he does not, better to have my head chopped off trying to fix a wrong than to live blindly against the truth of who I am and what I believe in. Or, is it? I have had my head on the guillotine on many occasions and have been helpless to resolve my own personal Naked Emperor Syndrome (NES). So, after careful consideration, I will be adding an additional step that includes assessing my alternatives more carefully before I get in the “crowd” in the first place—BEFORE I am faced with the situation of determining whether or not I should hand the Emperor a pair of pants! And, this revelation is truly a personal advancement that will have a lasting impact on the decision-making process that I use to assess my true viability in any given situation—personally, professionally, or otherwise. However, I think that though I may save myself by following this path, others will no longer benefit from my ability to exact change. And, right now, I am not sure that the decision to stop trying to do so is any better than the one the King made to go naked!