Have You Been On A Fool’s Errand?

 In Jason Bunger

If you have ever been the new person at a job, you may have been sent on a “Fool’s Errand.” A Fool’s Errand is a type of practical joke that experienced workers play by sending the new person to fetch an item that sounds technical, but really doesn’t exist.  Many apprentices have been sent to find a left-handed screw driver, a bee-line, 10 feet of fallopian tubing, a liquid magnet or a paper-stretcher.  After a time of frustration and ridicule, the novice learns that he has been set up, going person-to-person, to ask for something that clearly doesn’t exist.  He has been spending his time running a fool’s errand. 

A Fool’s Errand is also described as any endeavor which has no chance of being successful.  They are the things we consistently do that lead us only to discouragement and ridicule.   What makes these errands more frustrating is the fact that we often run the same errand repeatedly.  Despite repeated failure, we attempt to run these errands in a different way, expecting to get a successful result.  After failing, we ask ourselves, “Where did we go wrong in the journey?” rather than, “Now wait.  Why did I even go on that journey again in the first place.” 

I have found, that I often have been guilty of making a few fundamental errors repeatedly.  These are the errands that this fool often finds himself running.   

Attempting to Change Other People.

We simply cannot change other people, yet we continue to try.  We think, “My life would be so much better if ____________ would just ___________.” Yet this is futile to expect. 

Imagine this.  Let’s pretend that you won a contest.  You opened up the prize and it read: 

“Change One Person (including yourself) to Become Exactly WhoYou Want Them to Be”

In most cases, if we could really improve anyone, it would be our own self.  Yet we don’t change ourselves very often. We want to change, admit that we need to change, and know how we want to change.  Yet we recognize that we really don’t have the ability to do so in our own strength.  But even though we cannot change ourselves, we think that we can change other people.   

Jesus asks us, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:3-6)

Attempting to reconcile two people/parties that really don’t want to be reconciled.

This errand likewise took me some time to figure out as well.  I would be told by people about conflict with others and asked if I would intervene and help bring reconciliation.  What I learned the hard way is that in most cases, at least one of the parties doesn’t want reconciliation, but an excuse to exert revenge on the other party or the destroy relationship. 

When what we love (often the need to be right) becomes more important than whom we live with, reconciliation is not possible.  I have seen it in marriages, national politics, denominational meetings and global conflicts.  We simply cannot bring peace with two parties, when at least one will only settle for complete victory.  This may be the reason why Proverbs (26:17) states, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.”

(There is one exception to this rule.  Often what will unite the two parties is the idea that the mediator is the cause of their problems and conflict.  The anger they feel toward each other can be projected on you, the one trying to bring resolve.)    

Attempting to have an objective conversation with some people. 

I have the enormous privilege of dialoging about the things that matter with people that matter.  I get to talk about the big issues of life that people hold dear and and last for eternity.  I get to be part of an organization that wants to reconcile people to God, rebuild communities and bring some relief to the world.  I have had the privilege of being on both the giving and receiving end of these life-changing conversations. 

Yet I have also seen many brilliant people become completely irrational about the issues of life that matter in these conversations. Regardless of background, education, or ideology, I have observed a few underlying characteristics of people whom these objective conversations become highly irrational. 

  • They are unwilling to admit there is a possibility they may be wrong. This is probably the biggest challenge.  These people are unwilling to admit that each of us as humans, are fundamentally flawed and in need of redemption.  You cannot have a conversation of substance with someone that is not even self-aware enough to admit they also are less than perfect, and thus could be somehow wrong.    
  • They make up make up their own facts in order to support their arguments.  They won’t agree to an objective standard of truth.  Because truth is seen as relative, facts to support that truth become relative.  This goes beyond the idea of tabloid headlines and fake news.  It never ceases to amaze me how many scholars will ignore the clear evidence of written history in favor of documents that do not exists to describe situations that are probably speculation.  People often ignore the data that does exist by citing data that does not exist.  Another tactic they will often use involves identifying bias on the part of the person they are talking with without recognizing they may be equally influenced by a similar level of bias. 
  • Finally, they don’t play fair.  They demonize or ridicule anyone who disagrees with them. From the playground to parliament, it is much easier to demoralize a person by ridicule than to defend an argument with logic.         

Again, the Proverbs (9:7-9) teach us “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

These conversations often involved two sets of fools.  The fool that is being irrational, and the other fool, that is also being irrational by expecting the first fool to be rational.  These are the Fool’s Errands I often find myself going on regularly.  I am almost always a fool, I just have a hard time determining which fool I am being.      


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