Search This Blog

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Jester in the Court of Psychology

One thing we all agree is that we all need criticism. A second thing we all agree is that criticism hurts. But as Mary Poppins said, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, or in other words, allows us to metaphorically take our medicine. The problem is, it can be downright uncomfortable and even impolite to administer the harsh medicine of criticism, but the resulting silence often has the unfortunate mark of approval. The results in 'group think' when everyone agrees on a topic not so much because they are being thoughtful, but rather because they are being polite. When criticism comes too late it is often the hangman who sets you straight, as you lose your job, wife, or self respect for a job you had until then thought you were doing quite well. On the other hand, if you can somehow get the criticism you need politely put, then the pain of being wrong becomes something you and your critic can, well, laugh about.

Enter the jester. In medieval times, the jester or fool sat on the foot of the throne, and spoke his mind in a stand up comic sort of way. The king invariably got the point from all the ribbing, and thus was able to bear with criticism that from any other source would have cost the miscreant his head. In polite society, the jester has been abolished to the comedy club or to late night TV, but a case may be made that the heads of every social institution from religion to politics to academia needs their own in house jester to let them know that wisdom is not the only thing they are full of. Unfortunately, it's not something this fool will see very soon, no joke.

No comments: