Are you an Idiot?

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

It might be extremely helpful if you were, since we actually need more “idiots” right now!

Let me explain…

One of the most powerful of all of the great Russian writer Dostoevsy’s novels was called the “Idiot”. It is a complicated but very powerful novel that has influenced many great thinkers, including Nietzche.

In the novel, the “idiot” is actually the 26 year old Prince Myshkin, who has returned to Russia after a stay of several years in a Swiss sanatorium where he encounters a society obsessed with money, power, and manipulation. In the midst of that society, he models a very different way of being that is powerfully countercultural and, therefore, is called the “idiot”. While people are struck by the beauty of his personality and the compassion he displays, they think of him as an idiot since he is so different and lacks formal education. Dostoevsky uses him as a type of “Christ figure”, attempting to bring healing and transformation. So, what can we learn from the “idiot”?

Reading the Idiot on the beach during vacation was an interesting experience. While not exactly an easy beach read, I could not get the book out of my mind. In our present culture with so much anger, tribalism, and misunderstanding, I was left hoping for more people like Dostoevsky’s “Idiot”. In the midst of reading it, my wife and I watched a family at a restaurant come unglued with anger and rage, and was again reminded of the brokenness, pain, and suffering that is all too common.

So perhaps our challenge is to be more like the “Idiot”. The ancient words of the biblical text come to mind: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed…”  Maybe try being an Idiot in the best sense of the word? The people in your life will be grateful!