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Validating “foolishness” on “all fools day”

By G. Balasubramanian

Celebration of “All Fools Day” has been historical. Several claims have been made regarding the origin of the “All Fools Day” without anyone feeling deeply hurt on being a part of this game. Said Mark Twain “The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year." Honestly interpreting this statement indicates some amount of foolishness is integral to our real-life dynamics. Though no one would like to belong or be associated with this category, an open admission is hardly possible. However, William Shakespeare restored confidence in me through his words in King Lear “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”

I fondly recall the days of my schooling in late fifties where one used to sport the most condemned shirt to the school for the fear being sprayed with ink or being printed with “AF” comments which could hardly be removed. Pranks of being fooled were indeed a common show, sometimes one accepting the mischief and diplomatically accepting the ‘fool’ brand with a smile. Winston Churchill had once remarked that “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes."

As the Head of the institution, when I found a couple of students entering the room with a panic expression stating that “madam has swooned in the classroom”. I rushed only to see that the classroom was empty with all students in great joy shouting “Hurray”. Certainly, I enjoyed their joke instead of getting alarmed. “Being a fool” sometimes makes someone else happy! (I overheard a friend saying “That is what many a spouse does to keep the family going!). Eliminating the age factor in being foolish, Agatha Christie remarks in his novel. Murder at the Vicarage “The young people think the old people are fools -- but the old people know the young people are fools.”

The dictionaries celebrate the word fool with many synonyms, it serves as an adjective to describe many situations – fool’s world, fool’s paradise, fool’s gold, fool’s errand; a few tend to play with the word ‘fool’ calling others ‘foolhardy’ thus ‘fooling around’ it. Some try to play ‘fooling others’ and in doing so make ‘fool of themselves’. I would desist by dwelling on this word any further , after understanding the implication of the saying by Alexander Pope “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Keeping the joy and mirth of this day aside, being foolish has its own risks and challenges in the social dynamics. When a colleague offers a suggestion and the boss responds immediately “Don’t be foolish”, either reflects their authenticity or their arrogance. Several times, such foolish suggestion become seeds for disruptive practices that have serious impact on organizational philosophies and practices. I could easily relate how in mid-sixties while reading the book “The Future Shock” be Alvin Toffler, I found many of those predictions just unacceptable, later to realize that they were not ‘foolish’ but were well grounded thoughts radiating from a wise mind! So was my experience from my reading of the book “The Future of Mind” by Michio Kaku.

In early seventies, when one of my students questioned me in the chemistry class “Why don’t we use Hydrogen as a fuel in the automobile instead of Petrol or Diesel?” I failed to foresee the wisdom lying behind the question and rubbished saying ‘Don’t be foolish!” I realize that many creative pursuits could initially be just ‘foolish”. Edgar Allan Poe said in a lighter vein "I have great faith in fools: self-confidence, my friends call it."

Should one be ashamed of being foolish? Very often, people fail to question, seek clarifications, clear doubts or engage with competencies elsewhere, for the fear of being misunderstood as foolish. It is said "Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness." Admission of foolishness gracefully and graciously oftentimes opens the gates to experience and wisdom. Once marked or ranked as a fool, one doesn’t continue to remain there itself. It does often function as a trigger to their self-awareness and need for discovering their self-esteem. “It happens every day: Opportunities are lost, progress is forgone, ridiculousness is endorsed, and evil is sown. And it happens all because people are afraid of what others will think of them. They play it safe, and they never accomplish extraordinary things, all because they're afraid of looking foolish” said Bill Murphy Jr,

However, it is important to learn from the past experiences of foolish acts or statements. A friend of mine was always assertive of his foolishness. Though several times he stood to correction or comments on his stupidity, he found some happiness in continuing his way of life as it satisfied his ego. “Listen, when I had occasion to speak to the President of United States’ and “When I attended the UN conference on..” all his peers used to laugh at him, knowing fully well that the individual suffered from a serious identity crisis and displayed his foolishness through some statements thinking others would believe it. He stood as a testimony to the Welsh proverb “If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings."

One of the most popular and celebrated speeches of Steve Jobs, after he was detected with Cancer focuses on the message “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” He said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking and don't settle.”

The first day of April always brings some warm thoughts to the mind. When someone asked me “How foolish you are to advocate foolishness?” I just reminded him the words of William Shakespeare who said, "Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."