One of our favourite books is The March of Folly written by a now deceased historian called Barbara Tuchman. She defines an act of folly as something we do when everyone sane and reasonable tells us not to go ahead, yet we persist in doing it. The results of an act of folly are widespread and catastrophic. The last folly she documents is the Vietnam War, which everyone sensibly advised and counselled against, and yet subsequent US administrations continued to up the ante until the most powerful military force in the world was defeated by a small country. If memory serves the previous folly she detailed was the First World War, when Kaiser Wilhelm, the German head of state, was advised not to attack US shipping because so doing would bring the US into the war and lead to defeat; against all advice, he went ahead and attacked the Americans and from that moment defeat and sowing the seeds of the Second World War was inevitable. She detailed many other acts of folly throughout Western human history, starting with one of the greatest legendary acts of folly which was the Trojan horse. Everyone’s advice in Troy was not to bring the horse into the city, and yet they did; the Greeks sacked and destroyed the city and won the Trojan wars.
We believe that this week humanity witnessed another major act of folly. Donald Trump, against all international advice, unilaterally broke a contract and withdrew from a treaty that was the Iran nuclear deal. Our first nations friends would probably not be surprised at America withdrawing from a treaty that they deemed not to suit them and, while the rest of the world might apathetically resign to this behaviour, we believe it will have long term, widespread and serious consequences.
Yesterday we discussed whether Brexit was also an example of folly, and we concluded that it was not. True, it was an action based on ignorance, opportunism and fear, and is certainly having widely negative immediate and long term consequences which are always the result of a desire to separate rather than contribute. Yet it still does not meet the basic criteria of folly. An act of folly is purely ego driven, refusing to listen or to admit that you might be wrong, which of course would be natural for anyone whose main shadow figure is ‘the loser’. And, like all ego-based solutions to any issues, an act of folly will only create more problems. That’s one of the tell-tale signs of an ego-driven action: the solution to an apparent problem always creates further problems; it does not present a true solution to the original problem and all subsequent problems.
Closer to home, this is something we encounter especially in coaching people to give up their fights and grievances, explaining that the only outcome will be poor and most likely everyone will get to lose. The price for being right, the price for going your own way, will always be the destruction of relationships, of families, even of countries.
And even closer to home, knowing that it all starts with us, today we ask ourselves where are we tempted to commit an act of folly, refusing reasonable advice? Where might we be using the excuse of an old promise or grievance to punish or use others? Where are we refusing to evolve, find fresh collaborative solutions and make truth our guiding principle?
With love and hope,