Too many people in our society are marginalized, and none more than immigrants, who come to U.S. to escape violence and poverty, looking only for a way to provide for their families – and too often find that the deck is stacked against them. Transitioner Thomas Atwood is working hard to change that. He started Fools Mission a few years ago to bring people who have access to wealth and privilege together with people who don’t, providing friendship, companionship, support, and a community that bridges the cultural, social, and economic divide.
Thomas is also passionate about educating people about the injustices of our economic system. Last fall, he helped organize Marco Vangelisti’s talks on economy, money, and investment, and and since has helped kick off the New Economy Transtition group, which is exploring alternatives to the economic status quo, including what each of us can do as individuals to change our relationship with the economic system.
Thomas writes about Fools Mission….
Fools Mission is a consciousness-raising ministry of supportive companionship on the San Francisco Peninsula. Our core mission is to build solidarity, friendship, and community between people who have access to wealth and privilege and those who don’t—and we accomplish our purpose by engaging in witness, accompaniment, advocacy, education, and the arts. Fools Mission is based on a simple premise—that we won’t address climate change or achieve social justice until people from all walks of life are sharing meals, swapping stories, and reflecting together in a way that acknowledges our interconnectedness with each other and the Earth.
What Do We Do?
Fools accompany one another through life’s ups and downs. We learn together how life works for people who live on the margins of our culture by accompanying other fools during their encounters with bureaucracy and “the system.” We find ourselves seeing and hearing the world with different eyes and ears at school district meetings, medical appointments, human service agencies, disability offices, police stations, and court hearings. Fools prefer first-hand experience to second-hand judgments, so each fool serves as both a teacher and a student.
How is the Way of the Fool Different?
Recognizing that many existing social service agencies already focus on housing, education, and jobs, fools offer alternative approaches to “provider/client” models. Though we enthusiastically build partnerships with nonprofit agencies, Fools Mission has no patrons or clients. A power differential is built into this type of relationship that encourages a false sense of superiority and leaves little room for personal empowerment. Only when low-income and underprivileged families are mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually able to cope with the challenges of their everyday lives—and there are sufficient resources to address long-standing community needs—are goals of food, housing, and education security attainable.
That’s why Fools Mission finds its way in the healing power of relationship: direct experiences of other people’s lives, raising class consciousness, and fostering empathy. The magic begins as we become aware of our reflexive tendencies to judge or invalidate others, and spend less time trying to separate the worthy from the unworthy. An entirely new world opens up to us as we stretch our emotional range. When something is happy, we laugh; when it’s tragic, we cry. The calculated emotional restraint of our data-driven culture begins to wither away in favor of the human capacity to feel deeply; to hear and be heard; to see and be seen.
Our programs focus on education and the arts, including regular tutoring events for children and parents, ritual and celebration, housing workshops, book groups, classes on discipline in public schools, immigrant education, theatre improvisation, and music. As we confront the socially-constructed boundaries of identity that separate us, we learn the importance of identity in our lives: language, culture, nationality, ethnicity, gender, education, ability, race, and class. As we learn more about the identities that we bring to the table, advocate for others, and reflect in community on the meaning of our activities, we discover our common humanity.
The Identity of the Fool
Throughout history, trickster characters in myth, literature, and art have served to challenge and disrupt decaying or paralyzed cultures. Beginning with the trickster stories of indigenous tribes, we also find the fool in West African divination gods, Greek and Indian mythology, abolitionists, artists, poets, and musicians. The fool appears in the first card in the Tarot deck and the medieval court revealed by Shakespeare—always ready to live in the moment, leave room for randomness and chance, and speak truth to power. Contemporary fools such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are among the most popular manifestations of the archetype today. As cultural critic Lewis Hyde points out in his classic analysis of the lineage of the fool, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art: “All of our ideas about property and theft are based on assumptions about how the world is divided up.”
For Fools Mission, embracing the identity of the fool is a way of introducing a level playing field as people begin to socialize across boundaries of social class. It’s hard to feel superior (or inferior) when everyone in the room is wearing a foolscap or clown nose. The fool acknowledges the importance of humility in a world that too often fails to recognize the limitations of human knowledge. As we learn to listen more deeply and reflect on the interplay of systems and stages of consciousness, we approach a stance of radical compassion and unitive consciousness that the world is hungry for.
Though we are a non-denominational lay ministry that requires no affiliation with religious institutions or beliefs, most people recognize the spiritual nature of our activities. Many of our participants are Christians and Jews, and the Judeo-Christian tradition places special emphasis on the role of the fool. As Paul the Apostle (a Pharisaic Jew) said, “Don’t be deceived. If any of you thinks that you are wise in the eyes of this age, you will have to become foolish before you can become truly wise. Because what this world counts as wisdom is folly in the eyes of God.”
Find out more about Fools Mission at http://www.foolsmission.org/about-us.