The Emperor’s New Clothes and a message from photocopier

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 11, 2018

The photocopier at Sure Print & Copy Centre, Cochrane, had a surprise message for columnist about this week’s topic. Photo by Warren Harbeck

A response to last week’s column on the role of the writer in the battle between truth and falsehood got me thinking about Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes. While developing that theme for this week, however, something surprising happened.

But first, here are two reader responses to last week’s column.

Calgary coffee companion Vera Goodman is widely recognized as an inspiring Albertan for her efforts to improve literacy worldwide through her Story Circle Model of Education.

“Thanks for this piece,” she says. “It is exactly what I believe about reading. Many people have never read a complete book, never mind one which requires some thought and interpretation. Firstly, many don’t read well enough to get through it, and secondly, reading is a solitary endeavor and many do not want to take the time to do it. This is becoming more and more of a problem as we have texting and other electronic devices.”

Vera’s model emphasizes “not only how a story works, but how readers can interpret it for themselves, and gain a love of reading,” she says. And yes, a love of critical thinking, too, so that the efforts of writers like Solzhenitsyn are not in vain.

Then there’s this response from HR consultant Tami Anderson:

“My gratitude for this article is very deep. It brings me to a depth of my personal journey I’ve so desperately been praying for. The world is, indeed, struggling with a desperate need for power and control. Given the universal and ever-present darkness we find ourselves in, we can be individually touched by the Lie. To find the courage to stand against it becomes a personal journey.”

The courage to stand against the Lie? That’s what got me thinking about The Emperor’s New Clothes. We’re all familiar with that classic tale about a self-absorbed ruler who was taken in by a pair of tailors who conned him into believing only the truly worthy among his people could see his new clothes – clothes that, in fact, didn’t even exist.

The emperor couldn’t see them either, but was afraid to admit it, lest he, too, be found out to be unworthy. All his aides fawned over his non-existent outfit and proudly paraded him through the streets before the fawning crowds. It seemed that his whole empire was being taken in by the con artists – everyone, that is, except an innocent child in the crowd who had the courage to declare: “He hasn’t got anything on!”

With that courageous child’s words echoing in my mind, I had originally intended to build this whole column around the role of the writer and the importance of a free press. Clearly, a search on Google under “Emperor’s New Clothes” leads to countless images and articles that speak to the current relevance of the story. (Special thanks here to Oklahoma author Mark Jones for his assistance.)

But while researching for the column, I happened to stop by Cochrane’s Sure Print & Copy Centre, and there it was, shouting at me from the photocopier: “Press RESET button.” I got the point, and immediately reset the approach for this week’s column. I’ll leave the rest up to you.


© 2018 Warren Harbeck

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