Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published this tale on April 7, 1837.
Once upon a time, there was an emperor who spent all his money on clothes.
One day two swindlers came to his court. They said that they can weave the most magnificent clothes imaginable. These clothes are not only extraordinarily beautiful, but they have a most wonderous property: They are invisible for those who are incompetent or stupid.
The emperor was excited. He had to have these clothes. They would help him find out who is suitable for their post. And he could find out who is wise and who is stupid. He gave the swindlers a lot of money, silk, and gold thread so that they start weaving immediately.
The two men set up two weaving looms and pretended to weave – with nothing on the looms. They put the money, silk, and gold thread into their travel bags.
After some time, the emperor wanted to find out about their progress. He sent his oldest, most honorable minister who he believed was smart and definitely suitable for his post.
The old minister walked into the room in which the two swindlers worked on their empty looms. But he saw nothing. He was horrified – and said to himself: “I never thought that I am stupid. I must not tell anybody that I don’t see this stuff!” The old minister reported to the emperor that the work progresses well.
The swindlers demanded more money, silk, and gold thread, which the emperor readily gave them.
After some more time, the emperor sent another honest statesman to check the progress of the work. But he too only saw empty looms. He too put on a brave face and praised to the highest heavens what he did not see.
All the people in the city talked about the magnificent clothes.
Finally, the emperor wanted to see the work at the looms for himself. He went there with a selected band of people, among them the minister and the statesman who have been there before.
Clearly, the emperor did not see anything. He was shocked. “Am I stupid? Am I unfit as an emperor?” he asked himself quietly. But he did not let it show and said: “The clothes are really beautiful!” He even awarded the two swindlers the title “Sir Weaver.”
A procession was scheduled and the emperor was advised to wear the new clothes for this occasion.
While the emperor dressed, all those who were present praised the clothes that nobody saw.
The inevitable happened. When the emperor went onto the streets, nobody from the city’s people dared to say that they did not see any clothes. Instead, everybody said how beautiful they are.
“But the emperor hasn’t got anything on,” a little child finally said.
A murmur went through the crowd and, finally, the people dared to say that they do not see any clothes.
When the emperor heard this, he suspected the people were right. But he did not show it and proudly continued the procession.
What emerges from this tale?
All too often we are not true to ourselves. All too often we agree with others because we don’t dare to disagree. All too often we behave the way others expect us to behave. All too often we behave so that we are accepted – approved – praised – loved. For this we bend ourselves. We sell ourselves for acceptance, approval, praise, love, and more.
Find examples in your life.