April 7, 1837, The Emperor's New Clothes was published. If you have not read this short story by Hans Christian Anderson, click here, or feel free to enjoy my interpretation.
In short, an Emperor finds himself an opportunity to don the most lavish and expensive clothing ever made. But when promised by two conman weavers that the fabric would be invisible to the "hopelessly stupid," the Emperor allows himself to be swindled, and subsequently humiliated by his townspeople.
For me, this is a story about the power of story. We hear stories every day about how the world is, and we then chose to let that story shape the lens through which we see the world. But some stories have more impact on the shape of our lens than others. Have you ever told yourself a story? How about phrases like, "I'm depressed," or "I'm too stupid," or "I'm so tired," or my personal example, "I can't, because I don't know how." These are all stories that shape our lens to see the world as depressing, too difficult, or too tiring.
Anderson's Emperor calls upon several trusted servants to scout out the looms, but being too proud to admit they see nothing, they report back sights of the most beautiful fabric ever woven. Their story is one of pride and grandiosity.
The Emperor himself is wrought with fear, as his story is one of entitlement and vanity. When he finds himself in front of the mirror: "Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! - Oh! It's very pretty," he said. "It has my highest approval." And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn't see anything."
The little child has a story of innocence and purity. With as simple a statement as "But he hasn't got anything on," the child pierces the stories of the townspeople, turning the Emperor into a laughing stock. And yet, the Emperor's story of pride is too strong to be pierced, "The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all."
This post is not to say we are slaves to our stories, as the Emperor was, but to demonstrate just how our view of the world, and ourselves, can be affected by those stories. For me, the moral of the story is that we can be pierced, and choose to change our story to one that serves us rather than harms us. As the saying goes: change your story, change your life.
What stories do you believe in? Is there really a 1% trying to keep you down? Is your boss really the worst human alive? Are you really not good enough? Or is it possible to tell yourself a story for so long, you forgot that it's fiction? What will you see in the mirror, when looking through the lens of your stories?