In Disney’s recent remake of the classic Aladdin, the genie says something to Aladdin that I find quite profound. Here, I paraphrase in my own words:
“The more you gain while pretending to be something you’re not, the less you’ll have.”
Jafar—the villain—is the villain because he seeks power, status and riches above love and honesty and generosity, and he lies to get these things. Considering his demise in the end, it just goes to show how pursuing what we want without any consideration for others will cost us dearly. No one respected Jafar when his real motives were revealed. So everything he gained while pretending to be loyal to the sultan turned into loss. Interestingly, he trapped himself in the lamp. No one else did it to him.
Might the people of Agrabah have respected Jafar if he hadn’t used deception as a means to his desires?
Curious how our hero of the story, Aladdin, is faced with choices very similar to Jafar’s. And Aladdin nearly falls for the trap, too. See, we’re all tempted with selfish gain. We’ve all been hurt and have legitimate excuses to justify selfish choices. But the difference between a villain and a hero is that the hero embraces the courage it takes to be known plainly and fully.
To reveal your truest, most vulnerable self to people is scary. Most of us would rather create some sort of façade to hide behind, to dress ourselves up as the person we most want to be. Because maybe then we’ll be liked, accepted, acknowledged. Maybe then it’ll look like we have it together and we’re qualified to have or do the things we pursue.
The problem is, hiding behind an exterior is the loneliest place we could ever be.
When the genie dresses Aladdin up as a prince and parades him through town with an impressive entourage, he is now in a far more likely position to be allowed to marry Jasmine, the princess. And she does fall for him. But what Aladdin needs to realize is that she would have liked him even if he didn’t don the prince disguise. In fact, she met him earlier and was attracted to him. Aladdin just didn’t believe he could be loved, and would never even consider the possibility of acceptance into the royal family, being the “street rat” that he was.
So, in pretending to be a prince, Aladdin finds himself getting all the things he ever wanted. But he is afraid to reveal his true identity to Jasmine and the rest of her household. And not just because he’s living a lie. But because he doesn’t think that what he really is will be worthy of their attention or affection. Eventually, if Aladdin keeps up the act, he will find that he is ultimately alone.
Because they don’t really know him.
Hence, Aladdin has to face his fear of rejection, his fear of being trapped by the perceptions that people have of him, in order to experience the true fulfillment of his desires. He can continue the lie and lose everything in the end, or he can choose to believe that in being himself, he is already one of the richest men alive.
We all want to be known, but most of us are afraid to let ourselves be fully known. We’re afraid that people will see what’s wrong with us. That in the end we’ll end up alone because something about us keeps people at a distance. It takes courage to believe that this won’t be the case.
But look how it turned out for Jafar. And look how it turned out for Aladdin. Sure, Aladdin had his share of faults, but he found that people could overlook them when they saw his integrity. Jafar would find himself living the loneliest life, because he was too consumed with status, power, and image to expose his true self, faults and all. He could have found love, if he was brave enough to face his pain, to be honest, to open up.
So my proposition is simply, let’s stop pretending. Maybe the world will be a less lonely place if we do. Maybe there will be more heroes than villains.