When wisdom departs foolishness rules

Concept of standing out of the crowd. [Getty Images]

A leader can be inflicted with foolishness. The folly condition gets chronic when the inflicted still think of their decisions and expressions as wise. Blind to the flood of foolishness, they continue with their daily lives unaware of the calamity. The foolishness is so obvious sometimes it’s astounding. A dad narrated an experience where when watching the news on TV with his 10-year-old son, the son asked him “How did that man get a PhD?” The dad, taken aback by the comment, asked him, “Why do you ask?” The son replied: “Because that reasoning is unbelievable.”  Not amazingly but disappointingly unbelievable. When even a child can detect foolishness, the ship is leaking and sinking.

People associate leadership with wisdom. But unfortunately, it is not always so. Leadership does not insulate against foolishness. Even kings and presidents are susceptible to wisdom droughts. Their elevated positions increase the risk of foolishness given the intricate nature of the decisions they must make. High positions grant gaps in increased visibility. 

Some leaders have ascended to power through a record of good traits but mishandled power reduces them to fools. The “rich fool” may sound contradictory but it is a living phenomenon. The foolishness of the rich man did more than just impoverish – it killed him.

Knowing that even a president faces inevitable wisdom droughts, the prayer is that the “blackouts” do not last long and that they do not occur during peak hours. Elongated dances with foolishness lead to decisions that injure the people. Wisdom-choked decisions create hopelessness which begets diminished trust which begets disloyalty.

When wisdom lifts, foolishness reigns. To a foolish leader, wisdom is an enemy. To foolishness, wisdom invokes hate at first sight. Foolishness advises its victim to not only ignore counsel but loathe it. To a fool, one who appears cleverer becomes a candidate for punishment. Foolishness is perceived by some as an inbuilt state. This view of foolishness as innate is contestable. While we can argue on whether fools are born, we cannot refute the fact that fools are made. Most foolishness is actually self-made. Foolishness is always looking for a home and is on a continuous hunt for victims. Many open their doors foolishly and actively make folly feel at home.  

There is foolishness that is fanned by arrogance. Such a leader feels immersed in power and is drunk on it. Power licenses and protects them. The “almighty syndrome” abounds. They expect honour and loyalty from all and always. They are their own brakes and accelerator and they do not accept external restraints. They feel that all people around them owe their status to them and therefore have no standing as advisors. From them should come only praise and worship. They are there to take orders. If anyone dares depart from the orders, a targeted ill awaits them.

There is foolishness that is born of association. Stupidity has a very strong magnetic field that weakens and draws in those who overstay its proximity. King Ahab’s link with Jezebel saw Ahab do “Jezebelian” things. Jezebel was hardly “Ahabian.” A leader with fools for company is likely to begin to smell of their smoke. The infection can manifest in ways such as protecting leaders who are openly hazardous. They sanitise their toxicity sometimes to the shock of the public.

There is a foolishness that is a divine affliction. Samson’s appetite for strange women opened the gate for his fall into foolishness. God gave him over to the jaws of his vice. When obedience is muted, favour is disabled and hair disempowered. Tragically, Samson never knew that God had left him. When a leader is intentionally arrogant, God can strike them with foolishness. The results are tragic - especially because the leader still thinks they are wise. Arrogance can grow to levels where they assume that even God is within their control. The leader is left to practice a powerless religiosity with no divine consequence.

There’s a foolishness that comes from hypocrisy exposed. One may play the character of a noble man but even a theatre performance comes to an end. Pretense has an expiry date. Hypocrisy wears out. Lies thrive in a controlled environment that only truth can breach. At some point in time, truth – like a baby whose birth time has come - must push its way to the fore. When truth’s time has come, you cannot push it back to the womb. It must come out. For a country, the sooner the breach the better. A leader may be very convincing on the campaign trail in the vote hunt effort. Upon assuming office, the leader reverses for the worse and it all looks like a bad dream. But the truth reveals that the one who was on the campaign trail was a distorted version. It is the one you see in office that is actually the real person.

One key symptom of encroaching foolishness in a leader is random, contradicting and disharmonised directives. Leadership prescriptions are premised on thorough life-breathing principles which make decisions derivable and explainable. Dilapidated and discordant decisions disclose and display a deficient wisdom diet. Whether the foolishness is from arrogance, association, divine affliction, hypocrisy exposed or a combination of these is traceable. But the good news is that foolishness is a reversible condition. The cure begins at the point where a leader acknowledges that their wisdom reserves are limited. Solomon – himself a wise man – pens a whole book as an assault on foolishness. He had his own brushes with foolishness that he did not wish on others. So for as many as choose the way of wisdom, Proverbs is a folly-buster – a critical tool for every well-meaning leader. James also dethrones the notion that wisdom is a privilege of some. He presents divine wisdom as plenteously available to those who ask. This liberal availability of divine wisdom makes foolishness a personal choice. Wisdom is yours for the asking. Foolishness has no scapegoat.