None of us like to feel like a fool. We’ve been schooled to feel this way for so long that it is a natural brake on some things we might otherwise do.
Fools are, in one sense, the “bravest of the brave” but usually because their bravery is unwitting. If you like, they are brave because ignorance of their situation or its consequences leaves them, if not fearless, then not showing fear because they don’t realise their exposure.
Yet fools have been important in history. In ancient times and cultures, someone whose outbursts or conduct might have labelled them “mad” were often retained by village elders as seers, albeit erratic ones. This became more formalised in Medieval Europe, where the court had a court jester, or fool. The fool had one power no-one else in the kingdom had – that he could voice opinions to the king or in public which would have seen others executed.
This could sometimes uncover a plot which courtly silence had concealed and “trumped” the plotters. This role is partly preserved in playing cards. These first appeared in China, perhaps as early as the 9th Century. They reached Europe in the C14th via Africa in the suits Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins, now considered Tarot cards, which originated in Italy a century later.
Modern designs followed, with possible historical explanations for each royal card in each suit. Some interesting ones are Alexander the Great (King of Clubs, the only beardless king), Knave of Hearts (La Hire, comrade to Joan of Arc) and Lancelot (Jack of Clubs).
The Joker card, however, is a recent invention, around 1860. Usually the top card, sometimes wild. In the game 500, they always win, although some variants allow a Joker to be “always best”, i.e. able to go below a red 4 or black 5 in Misere.
Which brings me to a favourite saying, that “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”.
It is precisely this which makes fools invaluable. How often have you seen someone do something you might have done a short time later which they regret and you learn from. A lesson to the foolish is often a lesson for many.
Angels can be inspirational, brilliant, liberating, awesome. They also tend to be naturally conservative, in my opinion, gathering wayward ducks in a row and waddling off leading them. After all, an angel has to allow for free will, while a fool can go anywhere, and often does!
Fools test the boundaries. As the saying goes, “it is hard to design a foolproof system because fools are so ingenious”. You see, fools don’t think in a straight line, except sometimes, when stupidity is the shortest route between A and B.
So if you do something and feel foolish, you are probably ingenious and worthy of praise. Sort of. At the least, others can now avoid the minefield you have walked into. If you are feeling foolish, you may have just done something that has saved us all some pain (or misery, misère in French).
Image source: The Fool, Tarot, Joker, Archangel Michael