“Don’t be taken for a fool”… “a fool’s paradise”… “fool’s gold”… a “fool for love”… making something “foolproof”. There have been a lot of sayings about fools through the centuries. Nobody ever wants to look like one, yet everyone has felt foolish at least once in his lifetime.
Chances are, you’re reading this close to the day that honors the great American tradition of fool-making – April Fool’s Day. The first of April was a day that, in grade school, you had to be cautious. You didn’t know if one of your classmates was going to pull a fast one on you. Many notorious stories circled of jokes played on parents and siblings, like switching the salt into the sugar bowl. But I never dared do such trickery on my parents – I figured they wouldn’t find it too funny.
Still, April Fool’s Day is a playful event, as long as you have tongue carefully in cheek and you don’t embarrass anyone too badly. If you are able to laugh at yourself, it is fun to be a bit silly and see if you can get a laugh – I’ve been known to make a fool out of myself in front of my students on the 1st of April.
What is a fool?
The fool, however, plays a bigger part in our lives than just one day a year. Let’s look at the definitions of a fool. April fool’s day refers to the aspect of the fool that is a “victim of a joke or a trick.” But the most common definition of a fool is “a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom; a simpleton” or a “buffoon; ignorant”. Most of us spend a good amount of time avoiding looking like a fool. We want to be thought of as intelligent, reasonable people. We want to be respected, and no one respects a fool. So, while some of us, especially those with school-age children, might be highly on guard for the first of April, others may have this defensive stance most of their lifetime, especially if we were ridiculed or laughed at as children.
However, going through life in avoidance of foolishness is a foolish stance to take. We can’t avoid, from time to time, looking a little nutty or ridiculous. It’s impossible to avoid all mistakes, or to speak eloquently in every situation. No one knows everything. The problem with the fear of looking less than competent is that it feeds right into the problem. It causes us to shut down, and we become unable to express ourselves. It creates tension, stiffness, and lack of coordination in our bodies, because we’re reticent to trip or lose our balance. Avoidance of the fool creates the very thing we wish to avoid – or, said another way, “what you resist will persist”.
The best way to overcome our fears of being a buffoon is to embrace the Fool. This doesn’t mean we try to become one, but rather accept his presence in ourselves, and contemplate that there may be some positive qualities he has to offer. Consider another definition of a Fool: “a man formerly kept in the household of a nobleman or king to entertain by joking and clowning (a jester)”.
Court jesters have played interesting roles in history. They provide laughs and lightheartedness in times of tension and stress. That in itself is of benefit. Furthermore, clowns and jesters allow us to laugh at ourselves. They often make fun of the people at the party, like the modern-day stand up comedian. If we’re able to laugh at ourselves, at our follies and foibles, we can overcome them. Our imperfections won’t control our lives anymore by causing us to build defenses around them and keep them hidden. The fool brings lightheartedness and a different perspective, giving us the freedom to be foolish, laugh, and let go of our attachment to our self-image.
Court jesters also had an interesting place in the royal court, as they were often the only ones that could get away with making fun of his or her Majesty. Through their trickery and silliness, they could even dare to make political commentary, at a time when to buck up against the king or queen might mean losing your head – quite literally. This brave jokester could dance on the edge of danger, because it would be written off as their silly ridiculousness. Even today, we have these jesters in political cartoonists, The Daily Show, and Steven Colbert. And although we laugh, we get the message underneath. Through our tricksters and comedians, we are better able to see some of the craziness of our culture or government.
The gifts of the fool
Without the fool within us, we’d never let ourselves fall in love or dare to step into new territory. The Fool card in the tarot deck shares this gift of the fool with us. Although we wouldn’t want to be so careless as to walk off a cliff, as the card is often depicted, the Fool also is willing to take risks and trust in the process. Frequently, we get so caught up in thinking about things, planning for every contingency, and making sure all the precautions are met, that we never take action on that new career, traveling to a foreign country, or ending an unhealthy relationship.
The Fool steps out into life and the unfamiliar with boldness and certainty that someone is there to catch his fall, or that a little tumble won’t be a problem. The Fool encourages us to think outside of “the box”, to explore new perspectives and be willing to say and do things that are unconventional. It is this part of the self that fuels the entrepreneurial spirit within all risk takers. If we can invoke more of the qualities of the Fool, we’ll have more spontaneity and our lives can be invigorated with fresh energy and insights, new people, ventures, and places. When we’re feeling stuck, it’s usually up to the Fool to nudge us out of our comfort zone.
We were more in touch with our Fool within when we were children. At some point in our early life, we were more willing to try a cartwheel on the front lawn and risk toppling over. We may have allowed ourselves to jump for joy and do a Snoopy dance when we felt elated. And we put our total trust in others, whether it was a parent, grandparent or other relative, teacher – usually there was someone out there that we trusted in to encourage us and let us make our mistakes. We had that precious innocence that young children have, that allowed us to trust in ourselves and our abilities, just as a baby innately trusts that if they keep taking steps forward, they’ll learn to walk. The innocence of the Fool is still inside us, waiting for us to explore, be silly, and play.
Most importantly, the Fool trusts in the Divine. He (or she) has the innate knowing within that he is guided and cared for by something greater than himself. Therefore, he lives without fear. He’s unattached to the outcome of events and unaffected by others around him. What a huge leap it would be for so many of us to be freed from our fears and expectations and to take the action we long to in our lives. Here is a quote from Eileen Connolly, author of “Tarot: A New Handbook for the Apprentice”:
Each precious day we can begin our journey like the Fool, completely untouched by any event the day may bring and by any emotions. Fearing nothing, we trust God implicitly, knowing full well we are divinely guided and always protected. Feel the fresh innocence of this God-like soul, free to go wherever he desires. Try to understand how he is totally filled with the Holy Spirit. Free of fear, he truly knows himself and values the experiences of all his past existence.
If we can invoke this innocent, trusting, risk-taking part of ourselves and bring it together with our awareness, experience, and wisdom, greater possibilities open up before us. We’ll not only have the competence and consciousness we need to succeed, but the necessary inspiration and confidence to take the next leap. Allow the Fool some space in your life, let go of your fear, and open up to freedom and transformation!
Copyright © 2008 by Constance L. Habash