Using Hans Andersen’s fairy tale about the emperor whose vanity lands him naked on parade, Judith Barr explores the stories of many kinds of power. While her accounts are mainly focused on power abuse in families and the helping professions, we know only too well how the same dynamics surround us. In politics, in the corporate world, in church institutions, even in our news sources, we can see many forms of abuse that distort reality, silence questioning, crush empathy, and build empires based on greed, power, and righteous self-aggrandizement.
Because Judith Barr’s parables are enjoyable and deceptively simple, they help to raise consciousness in non-threatening ways. They creep under our defenses to wake us up. Thus they can be used by parents, family therapists, pastoral counselors, and group leaders in their work. They can also be used for self-reflection, for it is not hard to find aspects of ourselves mirrored in them.
I would also like to see this book as mandatory reading for politicians and CEOs. Everyone claiming authority needs to know the dire consequences to self and to others of the power shadow. When we are not aware, we may find ourselves parading our grandeur and goodness as foolishly as the naked emperor, or as cruelly as any tyrant.