Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Two Kinds of Fools

Sometimes only a fool can speak the truth but sometimes speaks only foolishness

There are different types of fools, but two kinds of fools are especially troublesome. One is the fool who doesn’t know he is a fool. The other believes that she ought never act foolishly. The first type learned nothing from life and the second learned the wrong lessons.

The first type of fool lives on the edge of danger, imperiling himself and others. The second type is afraid of taking risks, too concerned about what others may think. This is the overly cautious and conservative person, intent on fitting in, the person who doesn’t experience life fully because she is afraid of being seen as stupid.

One aphorism, attributed to Abe Lincoln, illustrates one kind of fool, the second, often associated with Confucius, illustrate another kind.

Lincoln said, “It is better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Confucius said, “It is better to ask a question and be thought a fool for a day than to keep quiet and be a fool for life.”

Living fully also means enjoying that which isn’t already known; it means viewing the new and untried as sources of knowledge and wonder.

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There are also those who are fools in name only. In the king’s court, it was often only the fool who was allowed to speak the truth.

Here is a story illustrating a type of foolishness:

The daughter of a minister was about to marry. The pastor, her father, didn’t have enough money for the occasion, so the church voted an advance on his salary. They would deduct a small amount each pay period over the next five years, until the advance was repaid.

Being a proud man, the minister went to the board of the church and said the following: “My friends, I want you to know that I’m accepting your kind offer with the following understanding. If I should live for another five years, that your good fortune. But if I should die before this debt is repaid, well, that’s simply my good luck.”

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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