Long is the journey that is made in the company of a fool, says one of the Buddhist books. It strikes me that a journey in the company of a wise man or woman could be even longer, or at least duller.
The psychologist William Glasser once remarked that people who already know everything are not much fun. He saw fun and play as aspects of learning. Who needs fun if they know it all?
This may be something to remember as we enter the season of, among other things, foolishness in which normally quiet people wearing reindeer pullovers stand in pubs drinking too much and braying like lost donkeys.
While tempted to call them fools (the mild version) we might remember that foolishness is not necessarily a state to be despised.
My favourite card in the Tarot pack is the one that depicts the fool. It shows a young man heading off with his worldly goods, a small dog scampering beside him. He looks full of confidence. He’s ready to conquer the universe.
A wise observer might tell him to slow down but if he slows down too much, he’ll get nowhere.
Suffer fools gladly
A foolish – because it was based on a wrong assumption – decision to pursue journalism shaped my life so maybe that's why I suffer fools gladly. I wanted to be a journalist because we got the Evening Press in our house and I used to sit there in the farm kitchen reading Dubliner's Diary. In it, writer Terry O'Sullivan did the round of social events in the capital.
I thought that being a journalist meant you could stroll into any event in the city, that you had a sort of open pass. In reality, the events Terry O’Sullivan wrote about were held for the sole purpose of having Terry O’Sullivan write about them, and whatever the organisers were promoting.
So I was foolish to choose my future direction on the basis of a misunderstanding which five minutes' reflection could have avoided. When I began to buy The Irish Times out of my wages from the District Veterinary Office in Naas I made myself look foolish also. For the most part, at the time, only managers, bankers and Protestants read The Irish Times and I was none of those.
Still, I got in through the back door of The Irish Times by the sort of circuitous route the fool in the Tarot card might have taken.
Afraid to move
You could probably say the same about many people in the arts and in entertainment and about many entrepreneurs – without at least a strong dash of foolishness they would have been afraid to make the move.
That is all very well, but sometimes the poor fool gets crushed. Indeed, in the Tarot card the fool is heading for the edge of a cliff. Will he go over it? Probably. How far is the fall? We don’t know. But do we want the fool to turn back and spend the rest of his life on the farm wondering what might have been?
All that said, if I was to write down a list of regrets – not an exercise I would recommend to anybody, much less to myself – one of them would be that I haven’t been a fool more often. I have managed to break out now and then but by and large I have “stayed between the lines”, so to speak, as I learned to do at school.
Being a fool more often would have taken me to places and experiences that I cannot actually imagine. Yes, I know I might have stepped over that cliff and taken a fall along the way but playing it safe doesn’t necessarily save you from a fall.
So the next time I see some brightly jerseyed chap making an idiot of himself in the pub at Christmas, I will remember that he stands as a symbol of the historic figure of the fool and should be respected, not despised. Not that he’s going to feel like much of a symbol when he looks in the mirror the next day.
Padraig O'Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org, @PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Kindfulness. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.