Sunday, November 03, 2013

Speak Up! Speak Out!

Student assembly address:

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, first published in 1837. You remember the story:

Many years ago there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day he heard from two swindlers that they could make the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, was magic: it was invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position. 

Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth, the emperor first sent two of his trusted men to see it. Of course, neither would admit that they could not see the cloth and so they praised how beautiful it was.

The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed in the clothes for a procession through town, never admitting that he was too unfit and stupid to see what he was wearing. For he was afraid that the other people would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, afraid to admit that they could not see them, until a small child said:

"But he has nothing on"!

This was whispered from person to person until everyone in the crowd was shouting that the emperor had nothing on. The emperor, too, realized he had been duped by the swindlers, but marched on with his head held high. He became the laughing stock of everyone in the village.

There’s a lot of truth to this story, isn’t there? Because we are so concerned about what others think of us, we often go along with the crowd and pretend to believe, say or do things publicly that we don’t really believe privately.

It often takes the clear voice of one person—in this case, a child—to “break the ice,” and say plainly what everyone is really thinking. And here’s the interesting thing: Once someone has the courage to say the truth, it gives everybody else the ability to admit what they were privately thinking, but were afraid to say out loud. One courageous voice, it turns out, ends up making a lot of difference.

One of the temptations of getting older is to become conformists—to lose our individuality so as to be part of the crowd, part of the socially acceptable group. And so, whereas God created us with really unique talents and unique views, whereas he made us to be really interesting people, we slowly, inevitably become like everyone else. In other words, we slowly become boring.

That’s not what I want for you here at JPII. Be creative. Speak up. Propose new things.  Mina Adeeb didn’t like what one of our speakers at the Colloquium said a couple weeks ago, and so after the talk, he came up and argued with him. I thought that was awesome. Keeley Bryan felt badly for Jessica Myers, the 5th grade girl from St. Joseph who has a cancerous tumor, so she asked if she could raise money here to support here. Daniel Al Nimri wanted to do something to support the cause of Mr. Mila, whose son has Cystic Fibrosis, so he proposed a “No-Shave November.” Jordan Lee came in a bit later and said the girls wanted to also support Cystic Fibrosis and proposed Crazy Sock November.

That’s the kind of school I want at JPII. Maybe I can’t approve everything you want to do; sometimes, there’s so much going on here, I have to say “no” to protect our most important task—learning—but I like the fact you’re thinking creatively, individually, willing to shake things up some, willing to call things out.  Be respectful of others, and respectful of your teachers, but be yourself. It makes for an infinitely more interesting school.

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