I grew up considering myself pretty cool, or at least a close approximation of it. I was graced with an apt mind, a pleasant enough personality and good success in school and sports. I was tall, slender, blonde (at least in my youth) and semi- handsome. I either felt cool, or knew enough of cool to fake it in most situations: quiet enough to be mysterious, verbal enough to give flashes of my intelligence, aloof enough to inspire curiosity, and engaged enough to inspire confidence. Even if I wasn’t feeling particularly cool in a given moment I thought I had the tool kit needed to pull cool off. Usually; most of the time, though there have been exceptions….
I remember talking to an acquaintance and asking about his family.
How’s your daughter?
Oh, her marriage failed, sorry to hear it.
Well, how’s your brother doing?
Oh, divorced his wife, sorry-
Any chance of them getting back together?
Oh, already remarried- I see.
And, you, how are you doing? (with emphasis on “you”.)
And it slowly dawns on me as his face turns quizzical, that the way I’ve asked him about himself sounds as if he might have the family disease; that he might be teetering on the edge of moral, or marital or life failure. I suddenly feel very small, very sheepish, very uncool. I want to slink away quietly, an idiot escaping my faux pas.
In the 1959 Disney movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, the wizened Darby sits in the village pub preparing to make a wish of the captured king of the Leprechauns, Bryan Conners. Villagers suggest one wish and then another, and to each suggestion Darby explains why that wish is inadequate. When told to wish for happiness Darby sagely replies, “the only person who is entirely happy is the village idiot”, to which his companions nod knowingly.
The role of the village idiot as defined by Wikipedia:
The village idiot in strict terms is a person locally known for ignorance or stupidity, but is also a common term for a stereotypically silly or nonsensical person. The term is also used as a stereotype of the mentally disabled.
When my girls were growing up Darby’s reply became one of our oft-repeated movie lines and the village idiot became a familiar descriptor: the person who would naively stick his foot in his mouth at just the wrong time; the dull wit ignorant of the suppressed laughter brought about by his/her untimely or ill begotten remark. There could be no role further removed in my mind from “cool” than the village idiot.
Maybe it’s my age (56) but I feel I’m losing more and more of my cool and gaining more and more the village idiot mantel. With unchecked impulse, I rush in, or speak quickly, when a cooler, more thoughtful wisdom would proceed more slowly:
• I enthusiastically (too enthusiastically I realize late) regale an acquaintance I haven’t seen in ages and realize the enthusiasm is all on my side and none on theirs. I excuse myself as quickly as I can, ending their discomfort and mine.
• I remind a well-placed politician that I was part of an intimate group that prayed for him before his announcement for office and he looks at me trying unsuccessfully to mask his lack of any recognition whatsoever.
• I speak my mind, caught up in the moment and the conversation, sharing my “conviction” with “passion”, all of which sounds strangely like words of anger as I reflect later when my emotions are more placid.
At each of these times I feel anything but cool. And though I feel the weight of the village idiot mantel, I don’t feel any of his happiness. Just the slow, dull witted realization that cool has declined to idiot status as surely as blonde has slowly turned to gray.
And the words of the sage Solomon run through my mind over and over again:
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. (1)
And the apostle James’ remonstrance:
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak. (2)
I don’t worry that much about cool anymore. I realize that even if I can pull it off, I really don’t care. On the other hand, village idiot is an appellation I’d love to avoid. It’s been a slow dawning but even a dull wit can learn that cool isn’t half so desirable as thoughtful caring; and the wisdom to listen to others first, and thoughtfully, makes even village idiots look wise.
(1) Proverbs 17:28; (2) James 1:19