Be a Fool

In medieval times members of the court all acted very prim and proper in public, with one exception. The Fool was a member of the court that acted rudely, played pranks, told jokes, and entertained the Queen or King by whatever means necessary. The Fool was also one of the few members of courts that could speak directly and carried out special tasks for the monarch. This was no coincidence. Acting foolish gave The Fool an advantage in medieval politics. There is a lesson here, if you can embrace looking like a fool in certain situations you will give yourself opportunities not available to people unwilling to look foolish.

These days too many of us do whatever we can to not look like a fool. We seem to have forgotten that looking like a fool is an important part of learning something new. I think this is related to our hyper-connected social landscape.

In the past, if you were learning something and made a fool of yourself, only your immediate friends or training partners would see. I imagine they’d laugh and then probably make a fool out of themselves minutes later. 

Perhaps it feels like too many people are watching these days? Everyone has a video camera and can connect with hundreds of people in an instant. If you make a fool of yourself nowadays, there is a real chance that hundreds of people will see it. Not only can they see it, but they can comment on it. This makes the stakes feel pretty high and incentivizes people to avoid looking foolish.

If you’re avoiding looking foolish you are avoiding learning.

To properly learn any new skill or art you need to look like a fool. Over and over again. Sometimes for years. If, during your learning process, you try to maintain a dignified position and not bruise your ego, you will only ever gain a superficial understanding. The only way to fully understand your current limitations (which is a prerequisite for growing beyond them) is to be beaten down and made to look like a fool by whatever it is you’re learning.

For example, I’ve started practicing mixed martial arts this year. Which consists of kick boxing, jiu-jitsu, and wrestling. It was clear to me after my first jiu-jitsu class that I would be made to look foolish every single time I trained, for the rest of my practice, if I was doing it right. To learn new techniques you need to take chances, while sparring at full tilt with another person. Inevitably this means, at least some of the time, you will end up missing a technique and being tied into a human pretzel and truly looking foolish! 

If you don’t take those chances you simply will never learn the given technique. You could opt to just do drills and sit on the sidelines during sparring, not getting sweaty, keeping your limbs where they belong, and looking very dignified. But then you’d learn nothing. You might be able to describe the technique and its uses, but without having been broken down by it you will not fully understand it.

This phenomenon has always been intuitive to me for physical pursuits, but I have not always taken the same approach to more classically academic pursuits. 

Writing for example, I’ve told myself I need to improve my writing for years and years without really acting on it. I’d occasionally write something, but never show it to anyone for fear of looking foolish. I’ve been protecting my ego. As a result? I’m still at the same level of writing as I was years ago.

I am working to change this now. The Solum blog has been a great way to ease myself into learning to write in public. Much like when I take a chance on a technique in MMA and give my opponent the opportunity to make me look like a fool, I am publishing what I write down so that people can read it, provide me feedback, and I can learn. I need to take risks, try new styles and tones, and publish them. Otherwise I won’t discover my weaknesses and develop as a writer. Simple as that.

If you’re still on the fence about being The Fool, consider the following:

Every master was once a fool

Look at anyone you’ve ever admired. Now picture them with a court jester’s hat on. You can bet your bottom dollar that anyone in a place of mastery has looked like a fool repeatedly throughout their life. 

Armed with this knowledge your ego should be able to rest easy knowing that anyone teaching you something has seen countless people look foolish while learning. You’re not the first, nor are you the last.

Plus, looking foolish shows others that you are willing to humble yourself to learn something. People feel more at ease around humble people. Looking foolish and projecting humility will encourage others to want to spend time with you, work with you, and see you in a positive light. All things that will increase your enjoyment and effectiveness in many situations.

Being a fool is more fun

Be honest, who would you rather hang out with at the King’s feast? The Fool, who is slinging insults every which way, bursting into song, and having a merry old time. Or, Ser Lamerod Von Boringstein the Duke of who-gives-a-shit who complains about the price of grain all night. 

The Fool? Yeah, me too.

We agree, fools have more fun. It’s no surprise. Someone who approaches a situation with little apprehension and no fear of looking foolish is less stressed and has an easier time enjoying an activity. In addition, they make the people around them feel comfortable and at ease. The result, more fun and more novelty. If you’re having more fun people will notice, especially other like-minded people. Fun fools attract other fun fools. 

Whatever your goal is, understand that you need to humble yourself in front of it and accept that you must look like a fool. Much like The Fool that acts foolish and lowers other people’s opinion of him so that he can be afforded different opportunities than everyone else, you must not avoid looking foolish while learning something new so that you can be afforded the necessary learning experiences.

If you’re interested in learning and productivity checkout our article on using the 80/20 Rule.

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