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On Foolishness

I recently read "In Praise of Folly" by Desiderius Erasmus, or rather, i did something resembling reading it.

I had a hard time with it, despite being only 70 pages long, I found it difficult to "read" in a traditional sense. I more "swam" through it, my eyes and brain making labored strokes through its dense paragraphs and 500 year old cultural references. It would be more accurate to say that I "successfully traversed it" rather than read it. With some droplets of it having incidentally clinging to me afterwards

So please take that as a warning that I am a poor authority on what the intent and meaning of the book was, but rather I can tell you what it meant to me.

Folly, or, appearing foolish, I realize now, is something I have been at war with for much of my life.

Drawn on a two axis graph, the height of my foolishness would assuredly be in Junior High, where puberty, lovelorn ache for any female attention and forced interaction with poor company in PE changing rooms where a daily source of feeling out of place and utterly foolish.

Each day I would glance back at my action of yesterday, pitying and hating the fool I was, and was likely to be that day.

That finally changed in late high school and especially in college, where each day I'd look back, still pitying the fool of the past, but seeing the progress of becoming less foolish each day. Finally starting to put miles and then leagues in between me and my embarrassing past self.

That still continued, even into my mid-20s. Brains still develop, and you realize how selfish you were, and are. I started my professional career, where it all sort of started over. I didn't know how to do things. I made embarrassing mistakes, but I got better each day. I learned, and with those failures looming large in my mind I made them less and less.

I matured and stopped being a fool, or at least less of an obvious one.

This feels good, and one thing I took from the book, was that this can also be a trap. This superior and pure feeling of *not* being foolish. It can limit you, make you afraid to try new things. It can stifle you, and make you always choose steady comfort over chances at adventure or other expanding experiences.

I have tried, in this very blog, unsuccessfully to voice what about being a parent was bothering and me, and I think this book finally dragged out the particulars.

My wife and I, pre-children would go to restaurants quite a bit, and we would share a smile at the shows that parents with children would put on, confident that we, as non-foolish people would not ever be in their shoes.

Being a parent, it turns out, involves quite a bit of looking foolish. Your children are independent people, who generally do what they like. Yet their behavior reflects on you, as the general guidance is that *good* parents can control their children. That may very well be. For the total sum of times I have felt like a *good* parent are slim, whereas the times I have felt foolish are uncountable and ongoing.

This decent, back into foolishness, felt like failure. After having enjoyed the satisfaction that the illusion of being in-control of your own, stable and safe life, being plunged back into the chaos of feeling like an ass, and having no power over that is unsettling. The theft of a victory.

It hasn't affected just the view of my own life, I see coloring everything.

I see it in religion. How much of atheism is the desire to not appear foolish. To not want to be seen as a fool for believing an untrue thing?

How hard is it to follow the teachings of the Bible, while not wanting to appear foolish? What would we say to a friend, who was mugged, and who handed over his wallet, and also offered the thief his jacket? A Lord and Savior who rides triumphant into town on an ass is someone who is not overly concerned with avoiding the appearance of a fool.

The Greek word for baby and fool are the same, and we delight in them, for their innocence, but what is innocence other than the freedom of not realizing how much you do not know?

I see it in politics.

What was the 2016 election other than a woman who was so way of looking foolish that she came off as strikingly inauthentic? Versus a man who was so confident he was not a fool that he constantly shocked the country with foolish things. He mistook this attention for respect, and his followers saw his self-assurances as courage.

Yet, even Trump is not truly free of the Fool's grip. Even as President he wants to be loved and taken seriously, and does not understand why he is not, which pushes him to make more foolish actions.

And so our country has come to be ruled by a fool with illusions of seriousness. To wake up each morning and wonder what ridiculousness we will be subjected to next.

Optimistically, I want to write this page of our history off as a period of awkward puberty. A horrible, acne-scarred time, where we are all forced into poor political company. A four year tenure of deeply uncomfortable times that we will look back upon and cringe at for centuries to come.