Blog #26: The Fool
In the medieval deck of playing cards, there were 22 trump cards. According to psychiatrist Carl Jung, all 22 had archetypal significance. In other words, each of these cards represented some fundamental aspect of the human soul.
Jung found it significant that as the western world “lost its soul”, it gradually eliminated all but one of the trump cards from the deck of playing cards that we still use. The only one that remains is the Jester.
Jung’s insight was that as we experience the breakdown of our religions and collective myths, we have instinctively held onto the Jester as the one thing we cannot live without: the ability to laugh at ourselves.
The Jester (or The Fool) represents the incongruous, the unexpected, the irreverent, and the impulsive aspect within us all. God help us all if we lose touch with this essential aspect of human existence.
When we are younger, it is easier to be in touch with this aspect of ourselves. In fact, this kind of behavior is part of growing up. Our grandson, for example, is a natural comedian who keeps us all laughing at every family event.
This type of behavior presents somewhat of a dilemma for educators. On the one hand, if there are too many pranks in a school, the place could not function. But, on the other hand, educators know that boisterous behavior and practical jokes are part of being a child.
The ability to laugh and to allow oneself to be laughed at has always been seen to be a healthy thing. For example, in the Middle Ages, most towns would have an annual Feast of Fools. On this day, buffoons literally were encouraged to take over the entire town. There were parades mocking the civic and ecclesiastical dignitaries. People even mocked, with the bishops blessing, the sacred rituals of the Church. Individuals would dress up as priests and nuns and bishops and engage in all sorts of public bawdy behavior.
Why was this behavior allowed and even encouraged. It was to remind us all not to take ourselves too seriously. Vestiges of the Feast of Fools remain at Mardi Gras and Fasnacht, New Years Eve, The Mummer’s Parade on New Years Day in Philadelphia, as well as April Fools Day, when we have permission to tell “lies”, all in good fun.
As a culture, however, it seems that we are losing this ability to laugh at ourselves. The child within us has been suppressed, we take ourselves increasingly ever more seriously. Comedian Chris Rock, for example, has decided to no longer perform on college campuses. Students are easily offended. Good humor is not welcome in many places.
Obviously, it is not a good thing to be childish; that would be inappropriate for an adult. However, it is a great thing to be forever child-like. There is nothing wrong with allowing our inner child to come out at times, to dance like nobody is watching, and to “play the fool”. When we lose this precious ability to laugh at ourselves, we lose an essential part of our humanity.
Next posting: Taking Stock
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