Sometimes it’s the child, sometimes it’s the fool, and in other cases, it’s a friend.
In the emperor’s new clothes Hans Christian Andersen described a simple mechanism leading to people avoid to talk and share what they think. Posing as weavers two swindlers explained that they could supply him with magnificent clothes and explained that these would be invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. Dressing up with these clothes the emperor set off to a procession before the whole city. Everyone watching him feels uncomfortable, but no one dares to say anything. The fear to appear stupid or incompetent being even less comfortable than speaking up. It takes a child to blurt out that the emperor isn’t wearing anything at all for people to even acknowledge the situation and realize the source of their discomfort.
All of them had bought into some group think making reality invisible.
With the fool, Shakespeare established a recurring character type in his plays. He was building on fools and jesters who had entertained a varied public for centuries. We still come across those multitalented people entertaining their audience in a wide variety of ways: songs, music, storytelling, satire, physical comedy, and sometimes, juggling and acrobatics. But Shakespeare added an important aspect. His fools would address a wide variety of themes while also speaking outside of the narrow confines of exemplary morality.
They were doing so to prevent the pursuit of foolish action. To be audible they would often use humor as it eases the pressure from too much seriousness. They made errors acceptable.
They found how to hold up a mirror in such a way, that the leader is willing to look into it. It allows the leader to confront his true self.
And then, there are friends. Not all of them. The ones who are invited and asked to be honest and know how to follow up on it. They are the more challenging ones to find. However, they are just as important to remind oneself of the complexities of reality. They too will bring humor to the situation when needed. But mostly they will be honest where others lean into submissiveness or pleasing behavior.
All of them tell the truth. All of them make important aspects of reality visible.
However, for them to be able to do their job, it requires a leader seeking them out. One actively searching for them and listening to them.
Otherwise, they’ll be dismissed as children, fools, or false friends. It’s an easy way out of being challenged.