There are two kinds of fools in the world. One is the Biblical fool who is best described as a person with no self-control. He is “a larger child” governed by the impulse of the passing moment and with no ability to rule his tongue, emotions, pleasures or thoughts. He is stupid and self-conceited, and with no ability to see himself as he is, rushes to his own destruction hardly thinking at all about what awaits him. Many of the kings were fools and I’ve written before about Samson as a fool but a consecrated fool. God can use even the most tragic of fools.
On the other hand, there is the role of the fool in Shakespeare which is more of a wise man in a fool’s clothing. As Viola says of Feste in Twelfth Night, “This fellow is wise enough to to play the fool.” Fools are those who “tell truth to power” in the plays. Often, they are the only characters who can see clearly the dark side of fame and find the words and the lightness to describe it. They are funny but not often clowns. They are jesters but mostly about serious things. They are shrewd observers of human nature but not cynics. They are not hecklers or mindless critics. They, typically, are not angry but articulate and astute, having a perspective that is uncorrupted by falseness or self-seeking. They skewer, prick and cut down to size with humor and slights. Theirs is not a safe spot as they could easily (and sometimes do) step over the line at the expense of their career – if not their lives. Only the wise could value a true fool. For without the fool those in power become self-destructive fools themselves.
Grady Wilson was a childhood friend of Billy Graham and for thirty years he was perhaps his closest associate and confidant. He was also the one person who could let the air out of his balloon whenever Dr. Graham’s head was turned by the distractions of international fame and applause. He always said, “If God will keep Billy anointed, we’ll keep him humble.” He meant it and as a young man I saw Grady do that with charm and wit. He could only get away with it because Billy Graham trusted him without reservation…and knew how important it was for him to listen to Grady. Others might have thought Grady was just having fun at Billy’s expense but it was far deeper than that. It was a sign of utmost loyalty between the two men.
A True Fool
In this work of philanthropy, or any work that tends to separate us from genuine accountability, we need our own trusted fools. We need to be fools for each other. To avoid the traps of hubris, pride and arrogance we need someone around us who can deflate the balloon a bit without being hostile or destructive. Like the fool in “King Lear” we need those who love us in spite of our flaws and our own worst foolishness. One of the most emotionally wrenching scenes in the play is the fool and Lear on the heath in the storm. Everyone has abandoned Lear except for his fool. These lines express that unique relationship best for me:
“That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay…”
We have our critics and cynics who take every opportunity to devalue our work. There was a time when philanthropy was assumed to be motivated by the best of intentions but, for many, that time has passed. The mood is now more likely to be suspicion that the wealthy only use it to support institutions that serve their personal interests or used as sophisticated tools for escaping the responsibility of paying taxes. We have those who pander to us and whose vested interests are not served by telling the truth. We have our own biased perspectives that keep us from seeing clearly.
What will serve us (if we allow it) would be a true fool who with humor, skill and daring could bring us closer to our own best selves…even in the storms. Every organization looks for their top people to be the best and the brightest. Perhaps there should be room for the fool as well. Without such a fool we will never be wise.