There once lived an emperor who loved fancy new clothes. Jackets woven with gold, trousers laced with silver made with the softest and most lavish materials. More than ruling his people wisely, he was always concerned with wearing the latest and best outfit. One day, two mysterious travellers came into town. They sort an audience with the emperor and told him they are esteemed weavers who can make a very special cloth. One so fine that it is invisible to foolish people.
The emperor’s attention was immediately captured, and he ordered for everything to be given to the weavers to allow them to make him an outfit with their special cloth. They asked for the finest silk and golden thread and set up two looms where they toiled day and night weaving nothing. Many days later, the emperor was curious about how his new outfit was coming along so he sent his most trusted and intelligent advisor to check on the progress.
The weavers presented their special work to the adviser who couldn’t see anything, but he dared not say it out loud lest it exposed him as a fool. So he admired their great work and presented an excellent report to the emperor. And the weavers continued their work for many more weeks, asking for more fine silk and golden thread. Throughout the entire period, the emperor sent several more of his advisers to check on the outfit, each coming back with an excellent report so that it did not expose them as fools.
Eventually, the weavers finished their work and presented it to the excited emperor who was planning to wear it for a highly anticipated procession where everyone was eager to see the emperor’s new clothes. On presentation, the emperor couldn’t see anything, but fearing being exposed as a fool he admired it and asked the weavers to dress him.
Being very careful, they pretended to dress the king in the fine new outfit, even nipping the trousers a little at the waist for a better fit. They then stood back to admire their handiwork and gave great compliments about how well it suited the emperor.
When the emperor went out for the procession, the people applauded and complimented him. Each person was too scared to admit that the emperor was naked for fear of being thought of as a fool. Until a child shouted, “He is naked!” Then one by one, all the people began admitting the same truth, “he is naked!”
It was at this point that the emperor realised he had been deceived by all his advisors and by the scandalous travellers. But by this time they were long gone with all the gold thread and silks the emperor had given them and they were never seen or heard of again.
This is the famous fable by Hans Christian Andersen called “The emperor’s new clothes.” It is an allegory to show collective ignorance of an obvious fact despite undeniable evidence.
It is also a reminder to all of us that truth is objective and real. And it is important for us to learn how to find it and to speak up for it even if no one else will. Once someone sees another person speak up for truth, it gives them the courage to speak up as well.
This is a pleasant children’s story but do you think this could happen in real life?
Back in the 1990s, a psychologist named Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments called the Asch Conformity Experiments. The experiments showed that even clear-minded people can discard evidence they can clearly observe and yield to the group’s opinion.
I’ll describe the experiment but check out the video below to get a more detailed account.