Teach the fool

The desperate compulsion to teach a fool wisdom does not reflect their need of education: it reflects our own.

One cannot teach a fool. By definition, actually: a fool is someone who cannot learn.

(Oh, and don’t tell yourself that it’s because they’ve chosen not to learn and that your gift — calling, mission, whatever — is to help them see the error of their choice. Whether they’ve chosen or not is moot: only a fool chooses not to learn.)

To try to teach a fool is — in itself — foolishness. “Rather meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly,” goes the proverb. Indeed.

My personal favourite is when a fool affects to have learnt and — with their newfound wisdom top of mind — goes off and does something incalculably more stupid than they were capable of before they learnt it.

A fool will frustrate you, anger you and mock you. They may lie to you, steal from you or threaten you harm. But they will never learn from you.

I once spent a heartbreaking hour or so on the phone with a beloved friend who was facing the collapse of his marriage. His focus was everywhere except where it needed to be: on his career, on his social status, on his bank balance. Just not on his marriage.

I cunningly outlined the benefits that could be his of a fervent investment in the relationship nearest and dearest to him. I gently peddled the manifesto of “family first.” I unashamedly advanced the thesis that the most valuable long-term asset he would ever have was his marriage.

He thanked me deeply, divorced his wife and married her best friend.

A fool will put their finger on your most fervently held beliefs and seemingly scream, “teach me!!!” They challenge our fears, shake our beliefs and threaten our security.

In short, they act as a mirror to our souls.

You can’t teach a fool, but by crikey they can teach you!

Do they make you angry? The anger may point to something you fear to lose.

Do they make you afraid? The fear may show you where you need to be brave.

Do they break your heart? The sorrow may show you what is lost.

A fool creates ripples in our soul which can lead us toward wisdom.

Don’t teach the fool.

Learn from them.

Originally published 23 March 2012

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