People seem to know everything these days.
They know the true facts of an alleged crime before the jury reaches a verdict, without being privy to the detailed evidence presented to the jury.
They know that their political views on a given subject are not only absolutely correct, but the only sensible, moral, and righteous answer that can possibly be had.
Me, I tend to be a little hesitant about people who are so certain about things.
Sure, I have viewpoints. Strong ones, in fact. But particularly in times like these, when our positions are hardening faster than arteries at a Checkers drive-through, it sure would help if more people played the fool.
I’m talking about the fool as evidenced throughout history, and as described in Roger von Oech’s “A Whack on the Side of the Head.”
Von Oech writes, “It takes intelligence, imagination, cleverness and insight to play this role….The fool’s candid jokes and offbeat observations put the issue in a fresh light and forced the king to re-examine his assumptions.”
Back in the day, the King’s inner circle constituted something of a feedback loop. Today, we have the 24 hour news cycle and our peers.
Von Oech notes that the fool would often look at things from an opposite perspective, or might emphasize the trivial and deemphasize what people thought to be most important.
It’s not hard to posit that people have lost sight of what’s important.
Not only that, we are constantly badgered and downright intimidated into keeping within the lines of “correct” speech. Ayn Rand calls this the “argument by intimidation,” and George Orwell would be proud.
“Surely you wouldn’t be such a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal as to suggest that we should kill criminals,” shout the people on the left.
“Surely you wouldn’t be such a cold-blooded sociopath as to suggest we should kill babies,” shout back the people on the right.
A fool had to have the courage to take a contrary view while the king’s men were sharpening their axes.
Sometimes the “argument by intimidation” is spelled out. More often it’s just implied. Usually it’s clear within your group of friends, family, coworkers, and peers what sort of ideas will gain approval if expressed, and what ideas will cause you to be ostracized.
I challenge you today to find at least one instance where someone or some group is trying to apply these “argument by intimidation” to you…and to refuse to be moved.
“Yes, I do support drilling in the wildlife refuge. In fact, I’m not sure if we should have public wildlife refuges.”
“Yes, I do believe a woman should be able to terminate her pregnancy.”
“No, in fact I don’t believe healthcare is a universal right.”
Okay, those are some advanced examples; but you can always start smaller and work your way up:
“Actually, I do think ‘Dumb and Dumber’ is one of the finest movies ever made.”
“Yes, I do prefer chicken nuggets to the free range chicken at the health food restaurant.”
“Yes, I do happen to like wearing brown and black together.”
One of the biggest taboos as adjudicated by the thought police these days is joking about “serious” matters. Let’s not be sucked into this argument by intimidation.
One of my favorite quotes ever is by Robert A. Wilson, and says, “Even from the greatest horrors, irony is seldom absent.”
Don’t let ‘em tell you what you can joke about! War? Hunger? Dwarf tossing? I’m not in favor of any of ‘em. But if you see irony — or even humor — in certain situations…hey, it’s your brain! Nobody owns that real estate.
The courage to let your ideas be known, though, is only half of the equation. Equally important is having fresh ideas — something increasingly difficult to do in the age of cable news and social media.
Therein lies the value in listening to the fool… And learning to play the fool.
“What if there were no taxes?”
“What if vacations were mandatory?”
“What if every adult were required to have a gun?”
Now, don’t start jabbering at me already. I just picked these out of the air; and the trick is not to apply your own preconceptions to them, but to actually take the question and noodle out what some of the ramifications might be.
In fact, the exercise is most valuable when you pose a scenario that’s exactly opposite to your normal opinion or understanding.
Maybe the most valuable question in this environment is, What if the “other side” is right?
Do you have the courage to contemplate that question without blinders, and the honesty to seriously examine the potential answers?
In “A Whack on the Side of the Head,” Roger Von Oech (for good reasons) poses less loaded questions like, “What if people had edible clothing?” and “What if men also had babies?”
Mr. von Oech might cringe a bit about me applying this mental ninjutsu to political issues, but I believe we badly need to entertain alternative and opposite views before political rigor mortis sets in. Is there any sphere in which creative thinking is more important?
But perhaps I’m just a fool.
Bradford Rogers is an explorer, entrepreneur, musician, sailor, producer and writer. He does not actually advocate wearing brown and black together. His podcast, “The Multimedia Ninja” can be found at TheMultimediaNinja.com