When I was growing up, one saying that I would periodically hear was, “He does not suffer fools gladly.” I thought of that phrase last week when I realized that we are wrapping up the month of April, which means that a third of this year is gone. The reason I thought of the phrase was because the month of April is associated with fools because of April Fools’ Day.
So what is a fool? Within the context of the phrase — He does not suffer fools gladly — the word “fool” is defined by Dictionary.com as “a silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgment or common sense.” To me, a fool can also be defined as someone who is irrational, unreasonable, ill-advised, moronic, short-sighted, or unwise.
A person who does not suffer fools gladly is not willing to tolerate the stupidity of others and frequently feels as though it is necessary to put fools in their place.
One interesting fact that most people don’t know is that the “He doesn’t suffer fools gladly” phrase dates back to Saint Paul, when he criticized the foolish citizens of Corinth for ignoring his authoritative teaching and listening to what the false prophets were saying. Here’s what Saint Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:19:
King James Bible: “For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.”
Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible: “For you gladly suffer the foolish; whereas yourselves are wise.”
After criticizing the people of Corinth for suffering fools gladly, Saint Paul chastised them for seeing themselves as wise people who ended up allowing themselves to be exploited and enslaved by others.
If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know that I do not suffer fools gladly. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I hate it when I’m fooled by someone.
From a business standpoint, in order to be successful and to avoid being taken advantage of, I believe that it is necessary to have the attitude that you are not going to suffer fools gladly. In business, it is a mistake to ignore, tolerate, or put up with the behavior of fools. They must be dealt with swiftly and decisively or the productivity of the people in the business will plummet and the work environment will descend into chaos.
You may have heard of Brad Upton, a comedian in his 60s, who abandoned a career as a 4th-grade teacher and high school track coach so he could stand up in front of audiences and tell them jokes. In one of his routines, he makes fun of Millennials and Gen Zers by comparing them to what it was like when he was a kid: “Our parents let us play with guns and knives and fireworks. You know what happened to the dumb kids? They didn’t make it.” [Applause and Laughter] “It’s true. These guys [Millennials and Gen Zers] grew up in a world that’s child proofed and all the dumb ones lived.” [Laughter]. He then laments about all the stupid things that today’s young people do.
What makes Upton’s routine funny is that he comes across as an old, cranky fossil who can’t help but gripe about all the young people who irritate him with their foolish attitudes and behavior. He is obviously a man who does not suffer fools gladly.
The problem that can arise for those of us who adopt the attitude that we are not going to suffer fools gladly, is that we can become cynical, suspicious, distrustful, and unforgiving of not only the people we come into contact with in business but also the people we have personal relationships with.
I have recently come to the realization that if I’m ever going to make progress in the practice of the virtue of patience — which I struggle with almost every day — I have to become more patient with the fools that I have to regularly deal with.
I want to share with you a secret that I only recently discovered:
Before I can practice the virtue of patience in the same way that our Lord and our Lady practiced patience, I have to be willing to eagerly accept and embrace suffering.
To fully grasp this secret, it’s important that you understand that there is a great deal of satisfaction in being impatient with others. The satisfaction we experience from our impatience comes from a sense of superiority we have over the person we are dealing with. This sense of superiority is evident in the questions that we ask ourselves concerning the person we are dealing with, such as,
● How could he be so careless and stupid?
● Why wasn’t she more considerate?
● Who does he think he is?
● When is she going to grow up?
While our self-righteousness attitude is derived from our pride, it is what fuels the satisfaction we experience when we put others in their place.
I’m not implying that we should allow people to get away with being stupid, irrational, unreasonable, ill-advised, moronic, short-sighted, or unwise. We can still correct them and hold them accountable, but we should do our best to do it in a patient, measured, and charitable way, rather than by intimidating, embarrassing, and shaming them.
More on this topic next week.