“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a Danish tale by Hans Andersen written in 1837. The short version of the story is as follows: A vain Emperor who cared only about wearing the finest clothes was approached by two con men who promised to make him the best suit ever seen. This suit was to be woven from a fabric so spectacular that it would be invisible to the unwise and incompetent. The emperor ordered a suit made.
As time passed, the emperor became anxious, so he decided to send two of his most trusted advisers to check the progress of the suit. Of course, the advisers couldn’t see the clothing, but pretended they could, for fear of appearing unwise or incompetent. Both reported that the clothing was of the finest craftsmanship they had ever seen.
After a few more weeks passed, the con men reported that the suit was finished. They mimed holding up the suit, pointing and explaining what each item was and how it was designed and stitched. The emperor, not wanting to appear unwise or incompetent, praised the suit. Next the con men mimed dressing the emperor in preparation for his annual procession. The emperor exclaimed how magnificent the suit was as his advisers nodded in agreement.
The next day the emperor started his annual procession in his “new suit.” The townsfolk, not wanting to be thought of as unwise or incompetent by their neighbors, played along, exclaiming how beautiful the suit was as the emperor passed.
Suddenly, a young child in the crowd yelled out, “The old guy has no clothes on!” His parents tried to hush him but couldn’t, and soon other children started to yell. Finally, adults took up the cry, “He is completely naked!” The Emperor cringed, suspected the assertion was true, but continued the procession anyway as not to appear unwise or incompetent.
Here are my questions for today’s Airmen: In an effort to be accepted, will you put your integrity on the line? Will you lack character when it is your turn to be honest or will you be like the child in the tale and “tell it like it is”? Sometimes the toughest thing to be is the only Airman on one side when everyone else is on the other. Keep in mind, our first core value is integrity. You are strong enough to stand alone, when it’s the right thing to do. Our Air Force trains each of us to think and act in a particular manner in an effort to help us become leaders. Yes, we do follow, because that is part of the process.
Character is also part of that process. Character is the mental and moral quality that makes us who we are, individually and collectively. Character is one of the reasons we are the most respected and influential Air Force on the planet.
So, the next time you see that “naked” Airman parading around our Air Force lacking the integrity and character to “tell it like it is,” you have the courage to help him or her out.