Four shades of foolishness

Not listed in dictionaries

There is universal agreement on a fool being a stupid person who acts unwisely or imprudently. Harper-Collins describes a fool as somebody who is not at all sensible and shows a lack of good judgment. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the noun as somebody who behaves or speaks in a way that lacks intelligence or good judgment. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a fool is a person who behaves in a silly way without thinking. The Britannica Dictionary describes a fool as somebody who lacks good sense or judgment. Merriam-Webster defines a fool as a person lacking in common powers of understanding or reason.

All these definitions are, no doubt, correct. But composed of such generic terms, they are too general and abstract to capture some important and extremely common faces of foolishness on display everywhere, leaving much to be desired when it comes to covering concrete manifestations of foolish behavior on the part of a large number of individuals answering to the description of Homo sapiens (literal meaning: wise human or rational man).

The variety of fool one comes across probably more often than any other is what can be described as the ‘Einstein fool’, although Einstein used the word ‘insane’ to describe this kind of a specimen. An Einstein fool is a person who does the same thing over and over, expecting different results each time. Especially after a couple of weeks have elapsed since the last spectacular failure, the temptation to repeat the act becomes almost impossible to resist on the part of the Einstein fool. I prefer to call it foolishness instead of insanity because I believe that in nine cases out of ten, it is a man’s fault when he acts in this manner, and he is therefore to blame for it. (To the contrary, insanity carries the flavor of a medical condition – something that a man cannot help.) The wise man, on the other hand, knows that although he is not aware of the precise laws of the universe that govern the results of that particular act of his, they probably haven’t changed from the last time he tried the same act two weeks ago, and that, therefore, without any of the inputs having changed in the meantime, what failed the last time will likely fail this time as well.

The second type of fool one meets on a daily basis is somebody who is apt to opine strongly on subjects about which he has no clue whatsoever. Anything he cannot wrap his head around, he is apt to ridicule or dismiss as nonsense, and to present in its stead something he heard somewhere – he does not remember where, and from whom. The thesis he favors makes sense to him, and anything that makes sense to him must be true – or so he likes to believe. A wiser man, on the other hand, would be wary of dismissing things before understanding them. He would not look at stars in the night sky and, just because he is unaware of the rudiments of astronomy, conclude that it is all a meaningless jumble. He would not ridicule relativity just because he does not know the ABC of physics. He would not remark “What do nutritionists know?” when he cannot tell fiber apart from carbs to save his life. He may suspend judgment, but never will he dismiss something out of hand, much less ridicule something he has not yet grasped. He knows better than concluding that something is nonsense or ridiculous just because he does not understand it, it is too difficult for him, or it requires time and effort in amounts that he is not prepared to devote. Instead, he will defer to expert opinion in matters he is not qualified to evaluate and judge for himself. And if needed, he will try and understand it, with the help of subject experts, in outline if not in all its details and nuances.

The third type of the ubiquitous fool is the grumpy, complaining individual with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. This man makes it a point to carry grudges against all and sundry. He fails to see that by this attitude he harms nobody as much as he harms himself. If he were any wiser, he would let go of the real as well as imaginary injuries and slights of the past. He feels that moving on would be tantamount to fleeing the battlefield, so to speak, and therefore a sign of cowardice. He fails to realize that the tendency of carrying grudges culminates in making a man view the whole of the human race as a nuisance; which is the worst thing that he could ever do to himself. That he must travel light if he has to go far; and that competing in madness stakes, quite far from being brave, is stupid. That the best thing he could ever do to himself is to bring himself to become fond of others – something that is impossible in this imperfect world without being able to forgive and forget; and without being thankful for his own real gifts instead of being envious of others for their supposed blessings.

The fourth common variety of fool one encounters is the individual who looks down on those who are able to enjoy quiet and simple pleasures of life, declaring those pleasures too low for his intellect. Self-proclaimed intellectuals have traditionally been notorious for being proud of their insomnia. Many of them like to think that those who can enjoy a sound sleep must be simpletons. This type of man thinks the same about simple pleasures like morning walks, breakfast, sunsets, tea, trees, and the changing patterns of day and night. He fails to realize that those who are able to genuinely enjoy simple things of life (which he himself cannot) are that much more likely to be happy. And that therefore there is nothing smart about looking down disdainfully on such pleasures – in fact, quite the opposite.

Hasan Aftab Saeed
Hasan Aftab Saeed
The author is a connoisseur of music, literature, and food (but not drinks). He can be reached at www.facebook.com/hasanaftabsaeed

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