In his New York Times column on January 4, David Brooks takes on the apparently evolving phrase, “suffering fools gladly.” This kind of evolution must be in the air, because PBS radio this morning aired a segment discussing the changing meaning of “If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming.”
At least that is what the phrase once was. Already under discussion in The Boston Globe in 2008 was the current derivative, “You’ve got another thing coming,” and today’s radio discussion wondered whether a tape of President Obama said one or the other version.
Wow. Talk about external or internal locus of control. If you think that something will happen that is outside of your control, then you have “another thing” coming. If you believe that what you do results in change, then you have “another think” coming.
In this regard, Emma goofs up, as Brooks says, and so do the Bennet sisters in another of Jane Austen’s classics, Pride and Prejudice. Veteran mystery writer P.D. James repurposes Pride and Prejudice in her new book, Death Comes to Pemberley. But her characters are big on the internal locus of control. These are novels of manners, and in those days, manners were no trivial pursuit.
P.D. James has her characters observe, discuss, and adhere to the social conventions of late eighteenth century English against a background of what might be a murder--or not. It just happens to take place on the manor grounds of the slightly mysterious Darcy and the lively former Elizabeth Bennet, who met and married in Pride and Prejudice.
The incident happens on the day before the annual ball. Preparations are going on in the upstairs/downstairs mode that was de rigueur. After the incident, we are treated to the importance of breaking the news to the staff (husband and wife together and in well-phrased short speeches), and Elizabeth’s well-spent half-hour composing just the right note (written individually to the 50 families who had been invited to the ball—no email or telephone then. The Darcys send these via horseback rider).
Noblesse oblige is big here. More to Brooks’ point, manners become part of the resolution, not because they are trivial or manufactured, but because they help sustain relationships and mirror what is their nature. Her characters have faults you could drive a coach through, but they have hearts that encompass them and each other and triumph in spite of the inconveniences of the times.
So even though I am no expert on the New Testament, I was already thinking about the “suffering fools” evolution while listening to the radio on the way to Torah Study this morning. The phrase does read quite differently in the original, as Brooks points out, and even moreso in The New International Version:
I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!
If you go with the original ironic version, then if you entertain fools (and their folly) because you think you are above them, watch out because you may be fooled by them. The new version cautions against forgetting humility, too, but but you have to dig a little to find it. That's the "other think."
For more about locus of control, try this:
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