I was once at a gathering with a man who had been passed over for a promotion. He was, as we say in these parts, “running at the mouth” about it. To add insult to injury, the man promoted ahead of him was someone he hadn’t liked for a long, long time. He felt the man had less experience and wasn’t as qualified, and he was spewing his bitterness to everyone in earshot.
At first people were amused. Who isn’t interested in a piece of gossip like that? And in all fairness, perhaps the man misread people’s amusement as genuine interest and sympathy. As he continued, though, people became uncomfortable. By then he was too caught up in his rant—and the enjoyment of savoring his bitterness with others—to realize it.
I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve said something so foolish that people were embarrassed for me. It’s bad enough to say something silly and have people chuckle in amusement. It’s probably the worst feeling in the world to say something so ridiculous that people are too shocked to laugh. I shudder to think there may be situations where people have been embarrassed for me and I’ve been oblivious, like the man in my story.
I’ve thought a lot about that man since then. The things he experienced are universal. We’ve all had to sit by and watch someone get something we think we deserve. We’ve all seen good things happen to someone we dislike. We’ve all experienced being passed over and left behind. What is the difference?
The difference is the admission of it. He was saying aloud what we usually know to keep to ourselves. It’s more sophisticated (and polite) to pretend to be glad when someone else gets what we want. We may be dying inside, but we put on a pleasant face as though we don’t care.
I’ve begun to think that’s the common thread. Whether it’s a situation where I’ve been the fool or simply the witness, it’s always when someone says aloud something that’s actually pretty universal, but that we think better to keep hidden. I think of the ex-boyfriend of a former coworker who bluntly asked my husband and me the first time we met him how much money we made. Or the party long ago where the hostess’s husband loudly proclaimed his wife’s hope that the party would make the St. Louis society pages. All things people tend to be curious about or wish for, but not the things they’re supposed to admit.
That parallels with the biblical definition of a fool. When you read Proverbs, there’s a boldness and shamelessness in the fool’s actions. He openly follows the path of sin and invites others to join him.
The world understands part of what foolishness is. They understand that some desires are best kept hidden. The world tells us not to admit when others hurt or humiliate us. The world says to hide our ignorance or lack of sophistication. But without the Word of God, we don’t get the full picture. In Scripture we see that our sin goes down to the deepest part of us, and that keeping it hidden won’t cure it. We need forgiveness. We need a Savior. We need Jesus.