perception

For my blog today I ransacked an old volume of Grimms’ Fairy Tales – have you ever head of ‘the Valiant Little Tailor’. I haven’t room to tell you the whole story, but here’s the basics:

A tailor was seated cross-legged at his work one day and by him was a slice of bread and jam that he intended to have for his lunch. Glancing down, he saw that a cloud of flies were hovering round it, so he swiped at them with a length of old cloth. Seven flies lay dead on his work-counter. ‘Hmm’ he thought, ‘that’s not bad – everyone ought to know about this!’ and without further ado he quickly hemmed a length of cloth, embroidered on it in large letters ‘SEVEN AT ONE BLOW!’ and, binding it round himself like a banner, he set out to make the world aware what a valiant fellow he was. Before leaving, however, he picked up a small round cheese that was in the larder and put it in his pocket for later. As he left, he saw a small bird trapped in the bush by his door, so he disentangled it and put it in his other pocket (I’m really not sure why!)

As he walked along the road, he came upon a giant, and asked him if he also would like to set out to see the world. Now the giant, being so large, thought the tailor a very weedy specimen and he wasn’t too polite in his response! So the tailor opened his coat to show off the banner and, guess what, the giant assumed it was seven men, not seven flies, and was a bit more respectful. However the giant still wanted to show he was better, so, picking up a stone, he squeezed it in his enormous fist until a drop of two of water ran out. ‘Can you do that?’ he asked. The tailor brought out of his pocket the little round cheese and squeezed it hard. Of course the whey ran out of it in a stream – ‘I think that’s a little better’, he said modestly.

Much annoyed, the giant picked up another stone and threw is so far up that it was quite out of sight, saying ‘Beat that!’. ‘Well that’s very good’ said the valiant little tailor, ‘but you’ll admit that it’s still got to come down to earth somewhere. Now I can throw a stone so high it will never come down’, and he took the bird out of his pocket and threw it up into the air where naturally it flew off.

‘OK’ said the giant. ‘If you’re so strong, just help me carry this great tree out of the wood.’ ‘Certainly’ said the tailor, ‘You take the trunk end and I’ll carry the branches which are the heaviest part’. The giant picked up the trunk, but could not then turn round to see the tailor not carrying the branches but riding on them. After staggering a short distance, the giant had to let the trunk fall leaving the tailor (who had quickly jumped off) holding up the branches with a contemptuous expression on his face.

And so on – but what can we learn from this?

• It always pays to advertise
• Sometimes leaving the interpretation open can work in your favour
• It’s best to be prepared – of course the giant was a fool, but if the tailor hadn’t had the cheese and the bird in his pocket he might have found things more difficult
• And finally, don’t go too far in throwing down challenges or you may find yourself being taken for a ride!

Now, I suppose you’d like to hear the end of the story? Well, after many similar adventures, involving apparently killing giants, capturing a wild boar and catching an untameable unicorn, the tailor was given a King’s daughter in marriage. However, he began to talk in his sleep about his tailoring business and the princess complained to her father that she was married to a mere tradesman. The King planned to have the tailor overpowered in his sleep and sent to a far-off country – but the plot was given away, and what do you think the tailor did! That’s right, he used his would-be captors’ perceptions against them by pretending to talk in his sleep, but this time about all his valiant deeds, which frightened the King’s men so much that they dared not lay a hand on him and he lived the remainder of his life on his fearsome reputation.