According to author, educator, activist, Parker Palmer (2004), who is also the founder of The Center for Courage & Renewal, satire is a component that oppressive and corrupt leaders fear most. Palmer explains that when giggles turn to thunderous roars of laughter around a corrupt regime, it can rock the very foundation of that power and profusely shake the political seismograph. To prevent the shakeup from gaining momentum, a leader who embraces a dictator leadership style, for instance, will: (a) make a concerted effort to suppress satirists whenever they are able to; (b) eliminate them when their attempts are unsuccessful; and (c) remain vigilant for signs of satire arising from the underground (Palmer, 2004).
In a democracy like the U.S. however, a form of government where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or their elected agents under a free electoral system (Democracy, 2016), citizens are guaranteed the freedom of speech because of the First Amendment of the Constitution. This gives ordinary citizens the right to ridicule the powerful. In short, ordinary citizens have the power to exercise their right and speak the truth, especially if that means bringing down a corrupt system and their leaders, as history can attest.
If the United States were set up as a totalitarian state – “a form of government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinions and exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of the lives of people” (Totalitarian, 2016) citizens would face different consequences sharing views that were not in alignment with that of their oppressive government. In the meantime, democracy is constantly under attack from a brand of politics that is driven by greed and seduced by an arrogance of power disguised as something patriotic and/or religiously significant. In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, which focuses on strategies that build Circles of Trust, Parker Palmer explains this concept more eloquently. Using the classic fable from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, as an example, he explains about the political ramifications of both laughter and silence.
In Andersen’s famous fairy tale, con men posing as tailors come to town convincing the Emperor to pay big bucks for a new outfit. To maximize their profits, the con artists make the sartorial out of thin air and convince the Ruler that only the unenlightened and the foolish will not see the new garments. To avoid being identified as an imbecile, the Emperor agrees to parade stark naked throughout the town – while citizens applaud the unique new clothing, not wanting to disrespect their Ruler’s actions. This scene provides a classic example of citizens living in what Palmer describes as a “divided life” where both Emperor and townsfolk alike know the truth inwardly, but support that lie, outwardly (Palmer, 2004) .
The only person in the fairy tale with the cleverness to crack this illusion of fools was a young child who simply stated that the Emperor was naked. Although the child’s fearful father attempted to silence the little one, it was that innocent outcry, that freed the townsfolk from further supporting their lying eyes. This action in turn instigates the wave of recognition which confirmed to citizens that their beloved Emperor was traipsing around in the buff. It was the one simple act of an innocent child, who merely described what he witnessed, that freed the rest of the citizens from the deception.
Palmer suggests that the message communicated from this kind of awareness is simple: citizens will no longer conspire in supporting the illusions that help corrupt leaders maintain control. He further postulates that by withholding support rather than falling into silence, citizens are taking small steps toward withdrawing their consent which in turn plays a significant role for leaders who engage in misconduct and wish to maintain their abuse of power. In short, when people no longer affirm, pretend to affirm, or give meaning to an unethical form of nationalism and/or religious symbols that corrupt leaders implement – citizens can affect positive change. Instead, Palmer stresses that citizens will discover that from this vantage point, they are in a much better place to laugh at corrupt leaders, rather than laugh with them by using this silence as a means of dissent from their corruption, rather than expressing compassion towards these misguided leaders (Palmer, 2004).
In conclusion, Palmer’s research work helps us comprehend that satirical laughter and dissenting silence are two forms of nonviolent strategies that can help ordinary citizens become agents of positive social change. People who turn to strategies of nonviolence when confronting or exposing leaders that impose cruelty and injustice, have a much higher claim to good manners than those same leaders who hide behind piosity and patriotism to encourage and justify economic, military, or domestic violence (Palmer, 2004). In today’s ever changing climate, these are very real concepts leaders must consider when faced with issues that could lead to corruption and misconduct. Implementing an effective proactive strategy can be the key that helps motivate positive action from leaders as they continue to work on raising their own levels of awareness in an effort to achieve their goals with integrity and the support of the community.
That concludes our analysis on affecting positive change using satirical laughter and dissenting silence as strategies. Thanks for stopping by! We really appreciate and value your time. We’re also grateful for the opportunity to share the research work that motivates us, as well as offer a few insights from our own experiences which helped inspire this work. Next time, we will take a closer look at identifying attacks on the human spirit and discuss how these assaults may be interpreted as violent acts, which we may not even be aware of. We will also examine nonviolent solutions leaders can rely on as more effective problem solving strategies … until then, keep working on evolving your leadership skills!
“Laughter need not be cut out of anything, since it improves everything.”
– James Thurber
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Democracy. (2016, December 28). Retrieved from dictionary.com: http://www.dictionary.com/
Palmer, P. J. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. San Francisco, CA, USA: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved December 28, 2016
Totalitarian. (2016, December 28). Retrieved from dictionary.com: http://www.dictionary.com