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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 07-Dec-05


Wednesday 07-Dec-05

Barmecidal feasts, Emperor's clothes, social rules and leadership

What a heady title! It kind of grew as I meandered through writing this blog. So let's get going.

Barmecide was a lord in the Arabian Nights who invited a beggar to his palace and gave him a 'sumptuous' meal actually served on empty places. A 'Barmecidal feast' these days means giving essentially nothing and pretending that it's a great deal, or otherwise something that does not live up to expectations.

Not unlike the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, where people conform in fear of being different, perhaps. How often have you 'played along' with something when you don't particularly know what's going on? It's amazing how much we are subjected to social rules, often without realizing that we are being persuaded. When you live inside the box, it's difficult to stand back and see it objectively.

I will regularly drift off during a conversation, only to come back to find I haven't a clue as to what the other person is talking about. Still, I smile and nod, encouraging them to continue talking whilst I hope that I'll pick up the threads (whilst desperately hoping they won't ask me what I think). Why don't I stop them, apologize and ask them to repeat themselves? Sometimes I do, but you've only got a few shots in this particular gun, after which you start shooting yourself in the social foot.

Another similar pattern is the dead elephant sketch. This happens when there is a significant issue hanging in the air, yet nobody talks about it. Like there was a smelly, dead elephant in the middle of the room which everyone studiously ignores and

Martin Seligman described 'learned helplessness', whereby we discover, sometimes the hard way, that it's no good fighting city hall, let alone the local culture. Chris Argyris talked about how we collude to cover up the cover-up and make the undiscussable undiscussable.

Social rules that are designed to save face often end up disempowering, disillusioning and turning enthusiastic individuals into dull clones. Yet you still have choice, in particular in choosing whether to step up to the plate and take charge. Leaders use social rules. They break them, change them and create new rules that people will follow. Whenever you see unwritten rules that are ruining the game, you have an opportunity to lead, just as the little boy did in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes.

So bite the bullet, take the reins, break the rules and become a leader!

Your comments

My reply blog would be this. So be a ruler, don't just lead or follow. Break the China! When you do, you will only discover that the China is fake, cheap, and last season's blue light special from Kmart. It is all a game, just somebody else's rules. A coo happens, eventually someone in the ranks surfaces as a leader. Power goes to their head and it is chaos again. Unorganized anarchy as opposed to organized. I choose to play dead and if anyone asks I say the rat upstairs is dead, leave me alone. When in fact I save myself from the whole rat race and rat trap. I have a moral compass to lead me!

-- Deborah L


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