Lesons from Fools

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 21.32.18I’m in my twenties, and I shout over the boiling kettle to my flatmate in the other room, “Where’ve you put the tea?”

“In my sock drawer,” she shouts back, her tone of voice also suggesting, “Der! Where did you think?”

Who says everything needs to make sense?



Roald Dahl used to love the unexpected. The BFG (Seen the Spielberg film yet?) is a great example. He is satisfyingly scary – oh, that horrifyingly huge hand that plucks Sophie from her bed! (“Seriously, that book should be banned – it could cause children serious psychological problems.”) Yet, in a neat piece of shape shifting, we discover that our huge BFG is in giant-terms a runt himself, bullied by vastly huger giants.

Again, so ignorant a giant that he can’t even talk English properly (“Words is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me”), he makes many of the wisest comments in the book.

“Yesterday,” he said, “We was not believing in giants, was we? Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers. Just because we happen not to have actually seen something with our own two little winkles, we think it is not existing.”

Shape shift again – he’s simple-minded, yet with special powers: “I is hearing all the wondrous and terrible things,” he tells Sophie, “all the secret whisperings of the world.”

But to be serious, seriously …

But to get away from children’s stories, do you believe in seriousness? The world divides into the serious – everything to make sense, and the non-serious – lightness and humour, especially for events and situations that are serious or terrifying or just plain paradoxical.

Some examples of the divide:

Serious: Job interviews on the whole. Your reasons and explanations have to ‘make sense.’ When I had a job assisting in running job selections for one of the big accounting companies, the selectors mostly rejected CVs that didn’t fit a consistent pattern – for example, an unexplained career gap was considered a serious impediment to selection. By the way, just think of the people who wouldn’t be selected by such a ‘serious’ method? Albert Einstein – expelled from school, and in any case considered ‘slow’; Bill Gates – dropped out of Harvard; Stephen Spielberg – couldn’t get the school grades to get into University; and thousands of other remarkable people.

Serious: Politicians (many of whom have excellent CVs with not the tiniest chink of a career gap between Oxbridge and Political Adviser.) Most politicians like pattern and structure. They talk about “sensible people” as in “all sensible people will agree that I am right.” Oh and, “This is the right thing to do.” Very serious – very simplistic … very righteous …

Serious: a life that makes sense. Most people are reassured by a past that is coherent, even if it’s a complete shambles. Look out for the minute smirk of satisfaction when someone says, “I’m a failure because …;” (complete the dots: negligent parents, wrong school, bullying, unfair treatment…). Once they’ve made the past fit a pattern, it carries on just as coherently into the future: “I’m destined to continue a failure because I never had a chance because of _____” (same reasons). Seriously flawed thinking, but it “makes serious sense.”

What about non-serious?

Non-serious: “What I mean and what I say is two different things,” the BFG announces rather grandly.” Nonsense… funny … and true. Both humorous and profound in the same sentence.

Non-serious: Coaching – where humour is allowed to walk side by side with major life themes and difficult feelings – the humour doesn’t deny the feelings, it universalises them as a human condition and makes them less scary, allowing the work to be done.

Non-serious: Dancing, writing, running, painting, singing – ‘non-productive’ activities where joy underlines the energy, where results can be profound.

You get the idea:

Serious: You’re going to be a perfect accountant, your working life the perfect pattern of progression.

Non-serious: Well! They broke the mould when they made you! You’re unique, you’re original, you’re wonderfully, amazingly YOU.

In literature, wisdom often emerges from the mouth of the fool: Dostoyevsky’s Idiot, King Lear’s Fool, the wisdom of children, Winnie the Pooh – that bear of little brain, The Beatles “The Fool on the Hill” and on and on.

I have found that seriousness and rationalisation make me heavy, over-conscientious, detail obsessed and anxious. Lightness gives me energy, fresh ideas, and a better view of the whole, including other people. Anxiety shrinks and cripples; laughter releases and expands.

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. Oscar Wilde

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. Elbert Hubbard

Lighten up and you lighten up those around you. Fear crawls away to trouble people who are more serious. In lightness you rediscover flexibility; rigid control becomes redundant; the mind begins to play and discover new patterns; relationships become fresh and interesting; grace returns.

Autumn, new beginnings … what about treading lightly for a while? You might find yourself laughing at how many good things happen and at how much you achieve.

Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically. Nelson Mandela

And the rest …


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