The Art of Foolkido
For everyone dealing with organizational pressure or into activism against large organizations.
Dealing with conflicts you can’t win.
When a very big guy pushes a very little guy, the most normal reaction would be to either push back and lose or just give way and lose. Either way there is a some pushing and the big guy wins. Often nor the fight nor the flight reaction of humans isn’t going to make the difference we seek.
So the fools way would be to choose a third way, a different way: the playful way.
A fool could, when pushed, react in a very exaggerated way. Even the smallest push could make a fool crash land against the wall across a room of twelve meters wide, or he could start a crazy panting dance. He seems victim, but he is not. A school friend of mine always got away with the dancing. Who would hit an idiot? He chose his reaction, and his reaction made him look totally outside the system of bully and victim. It made him untouchable. Yet at the same time, his was the master stroke that exposed the big guy as a bully and him as the lovable underdog. It makes the bully lose his grip on the situation, for bullies don’t understand the 3rd road.
A more large scale version of this might be to run ahead of the push. You might consider spreading pamphlets “We are proud to lose our jobs, (or have our village polluted) so Company XX can make your cookies/t-shirts 4 cents cheaper, by employing children in India.” “Yes, we want to sacrifice our livelihoods and health for the greater good of their shareholders and capitalism.” Ouch. You can also make visible what actually is happening in art. Suppose that life size red bodies had been painted on the road for every victim of the American invasions in the Middle East and the world had seen how many unknowns died in the 9/11 revenge wars. Suppose you walk up to barricades dressed up as angels. And somebody shot. The image of a dead angel shot by police would stun the world and haunt the aggressor for ages.
It is not for nothing those crazy early Christians made such a huge impact. The willingness to die for a believe, without fighting back mystified the Roman mindset, so much, that it became the one belief they all embraced in the end. (It was only then, that the Roman power mindset could enter Christianity and later corrupt the Church. But that’s another story.)
The Key to Foolkido
Foolkido is a form of mental opposition that uses the force of the opponent against themselves, much like Aikido does in a physical way. It seeks to avoid escalation of aggression or fighting. It seeks to reveal the heart of the difference and at best open roads to a solution, that is humane and valuable for all. As Nelson Mandela said, a good response or solution must include the opponent as part of the outcome.
To use Foolkido has some demands. To use it you have to be in the situation; to feel, experience and acknowledge what happens. Fully. And still be able to play with it. Only then the fool within will know what to do.
Three principles are fundamental to this:
1. Be free of the situation.
If you are not free from the situation, all your actions will be experienced as part of the situation or worse as part of power politics. Step out of the system and become really free from it. When there’s no inner big red button to push, how can someone get you to explode?
How could Gandhi, basically a small guy on sandals, armed with nothing but a few ideas, liberate India from the British? He didn’t fight. So fighting him would be make the British a fool of themselves. And the whole world was watching.
Being free is all about going so far out of the expected game that all sides must (re)consider, pay attention and cannot keep up their usual way. Alienation is often disturbing while not attacking anything. When the law says: you can’t wear masks to cover your face (‘so we can film you on security camera’s’), then wear underwear on your head. (Trick used in 2002 in New York in protests against the World Economic Forum) Freedom of personal embarrassment is therefore also essential.
2. Be free of the outcome.
You may not have any interest in the outcome. This may sound paradoxical, but having an interest makes your actions political and thus can be countered upon. So you must react as pure as possible, with an as pure as possible intention. If you try pressing the big green button that solves it all, you will find it defended. If you are not searching for the big green button, how can you avoid pressing it? My crazy dancing friend did not dance towards to bully to humiliate him. He just danced for himself, free of the outcome.
In the Eighties members of Pomaranczowa Alternatywa (Orange Alternative) in Poland stood out for their whimsical approach to protest and their creative use of the absurd. In marches as Orange Dwarfs, or just parading these orange Garden Dwarfs, there was no fighting the communistic government, and yet, they helped to create a road for more liberties and air.
Who would arrest Dwarfs, that didn’t march for an unwanted outcome!? It may have been an important key to the lack of violent resistance by the old regime when it finally came down.
3. Be free to play with whatever comes up.
You must be true and awake in the moment. This means that no amount of shame, fear or anxiety may hold you back from your intention or impulse. If your behavior is determined by shame, fear, anxiety the system still has a hold on you. To keep this light-hearted feel free to play with anything. Free yourself from your Personal Embarrassments and or play on theirs. How can you not enjoy?
Example: Go to the Yes-men and see how they use various techniques, to disturb big nasty corporations that think they can get away with it. One of their actions cost Dow Chemicals 3 billion in a few hours! By masquerading as Dow, they offered publicly excuses for the Bophal disaster in India. Immediately the stocks went down. Paying their victims might have been cheaper. And then the real Dow lost face too, when they had to announce that they didn’t apologize. In short: they told the world they didn’t care about the victims.
NB: Very rarely these principles and the following techniques can be applied by Spin Doctors, as they have interest in certain outcomes. In most cases strategy leads to counter strategy! With Fools stuff, the rational mind always is way behind, so don’t start trusting it now. “They” did trust their minds and see where it got them.
Although there is one interesting story* of a Spinning approach: There was man in Geneva, who asked the European parliament very naïve at the end of a meeting (2001?) “Is it really true that some countries are contemplating shedding all debt from developing countries?” Not one country, for fear of sounding not caring, dared to deny his naïve question (“Yeah, eh, well we are working on it, no details yet..”) And all journalists dutifully wrote down: “they are working on it.” The story goes this was the incident that led up to the actual decision to really shed huge debts by the EU around 2003/4.
Thus to have a sense of what will embarrass people and what they therefore would love to avoid is essential. It is equally essential to feel free to embarrass yourself. Self humiliation is really a way to unarm opponents. Since those ‘with nasty things to hide or protect’ always have more to hide or keep up, the advantage of fear of embarrassment always lies on the side of the protester.
There is a famous story from the beginning of the Twentieth Century. An famous mischievous Englishman delivered once to all rich and powerful men in London a anonymous note saying: “They know all about it. Flee the country.” A very substantial amount of them departed suddenly for business elsewhere. I wonder why the police doesn’t use this kind of tricks more often on people they suspect.
Speaking to the soul, rather than the mask
A final approach is to focus on speaking to the hearts of all those involved. Ask the key players and their staff, and all their workers. What do you truly live for? How would you like to be remembered? Would you trade places with anyone who has to live with consequences of your decisions? What’s your real passion? What in your heart would you like to be spoken to? What part of your heart would you like to dare speak or act from? Ask the questions that hit home, that call out the human inside. Try and meet that heart and start the dialogue from there.
This method helped very much to prevent a lot of escalation in Egypt, where police refused to shoot at protesters, when the people rose up against Mubarak.
And now over to you
If you are a social activist: in this brilliant article on guerillatranslation (I may even have stolen (oh my) a few sentences and a picture from) they show in depth great examples.
If you are a person or group under nasty pressure then consider the next paragraph to find your fun way out. Or hire Floris to work with on the level of living the core principles and concept
If you head a huge company and you want to prevent actions against you, the road is simple. Be honest. Don’t lie. Don’t pollute and treat both workers, clients and environment as valuable. It is that simple. Most workers also love to make a positive difference so motivation will go up too. And your grandchildren might not have to die in a warm desert, war or from twisted food.
If you work for the NSA, or something similar, well, read the paragraph above this one again ;)
Tool Box of questions to get started:
If you exaggerate their intentions, what picture do you get?
If you exaggerate their attitude, images, what picture do you get?
If you exaggerate your own behavior up to now, what image do you get? Is that helpful?
If you exaggerate what it does to you and others, what picture do you get?
If you blow up their line of reasoning, what will the next steps or conclusions be?
Where can you ‘sit down’ so they can’t ignore your peaceful action?
What suggestive question can you find in your situation that no one would dare to deny?
What aspect of their hearts do they close up, so they can do what they do, and how can you speak to these parts?
What question would provoke involuntary reaction that would expose some hidden truth or intention and which would invoke at least blushing, blatant lies, guilty silence or the fumbling or burning of papers, etc.?
*) Which was told me by a guy who knew who had done it, but I forgot the name. To me, to be able change politics with one question is as grand as Tank Man, but more safe and more impacting:)
Also check: older site by Elena Simons, a Dutch Social Activist: http://www.fungagement.org/
One more very different approach changing how we define leadership: follow the light bearers.
And finally this article:
has some approaches on how to deal with different kinds of nasty people.