April 1st is known for being April Fool’s Day. People play jokes on one another and it can be a way of creating a light-hearted atmosphere in a day when we feel overwhelmed and challenged. I like to think of April Fool’s day as a day when we can celebrate our foolishness. We can reflect on all the foolish things we’ve done in our life and smile at them now, since we may have been unable to smile at them at the time.
Some of the foolish karma we have originates in inattention. Like the time when I was conducting a certification program in Japanese Psychology and just before my presentation I went out to the garage to find something. The lighting was poor and I stepped on a metal rake that had been placed in the “ambush” position. As my foot pressed on the tines, the wooden handle sprung up and clobbered me in the nose. I stumbled back in the house for my presentation bloodied and looking as if I had been mugged. My topic that night was Attention!
If we can embrace our foolishness, it may just soften our hearts a bit and make us a little more understanding and less self-righteous.
Much of my own foolishness is simply bad judgment. I went winter camping in Colorado when I was in my twenties. Just before going to sleep, I decided to hang my damp pants on a tree limb so they would dry overnight. Well, they didn’t dry. They froze. Solid as a board. So in the morning, with the temperature at 15 degrees, as I was preparing to break camp and move on, I had no pants to wear.
The foolishness that’s hardest for me to acknowledge is that which arises from selfishness. These include times when I’ve lost my temper or said hurtful words to my kids or my parents. Some of these incidents involved pouting – those occasions when you won’t let go of something so you ruin everyone else’s day, while pretending you’re not mad, even though everyone else can see that you are. That’s both foolish and selfish.
So today is a great day to reflect on our own foolishness – our stream of inattentive mistakes, our record of bad judgments, and, yes, our own selfishness. And once you come up with your collection of incidents (generalizations don’t count) then you can celebrate. You can smile about them, tell stories to your kids that show how foolish you were when you were their age, and even toast to the trail of foolish behavior that is part of your legacy in this world.
There’s great value in remembering and celebrating our own foolishness. It allows us to accept our own humanness. This helps us to release some of our drama and seriousness and lighten up a bit. Most importantly it humbles us. It reveals our faults, limitations and vulnerabilities. And that makes it easier for us to refrain from judging others when they mess up. If we can embrace our foolishness, it may just soften our hearts a bit and make us a little more understanding and less self-righteous.
Humility is one of the most underrated virtues because if you succeed in becoming more humble, you’ve failed.
Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism in Japan, gave himself the name “Gotoku Shinran.” This means “foolish, bald-headed Shinran.” Usually, we would use a phrase like “bald-headed fool” to demean someone else, someone we didn’t like. But Shinran described himself this way. Why did he do that? Maybe it was his way of reminding himself of his own foolish nature, some slight protection from being drawn into an ego-centered view in which he was wise, competent and capable. Ironically, his choice of that name makes me admire him even more than if he called himself, “Wise, Holy Shinran.”
In the Bible (Luke 14:11) it is said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” So perhaps the path to authentic humility is less about getting down on our knees and more about reflecting on, and celebrating our own foolishness.
Now if you want to take this a step further, you can always use April 1st as a day to do something foolish. But intentional foolish isn’t quite the same as unintentional foolishness. So I encourage you to find some foolish history and celebrate it today. “Here’s to being human. Here’s to moments of light-heartedness. Here’s to not taking ourselves so seriously.”
Happy April Fool’s Day!
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......