“You understand, and that’s why you’ll never have any peace. If you didn’t understand, you’d be happy.” Zorba the Greek, protagonist of the eponymous novel by Kazantzakis, tells this to the narrator who is a young man of much knowledge. “You’re young,” Zorba goes on, “you have money, health, you’re a good fellow, you lack nothing. Nothing, by thunder! Except just one thing – folly! And when that’s missing, well…”
Zorba doesn’t complete the sentence. The sort of folly that Zorba wants his boss to attain is not something that can be explained. It is the product of enlightenment. It dawns on you when you stop depending on your brain for everything. “A man’s head is like a grocer,” as Zorba says, “it keeps accounts. I’ve paid so much and earned so much and that means a profit of this much or a loss of that much! The head’s a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the string.”
Knowledge is not wisdom. In order to be as wise as Zorba, one has to go beyond all the cerebral knowledge one has stored up in the head and step onto the shaky grounds of folly. Wordsworth’s heart could leap up when he beheld the rainbow or a daffodil because he possessed that folly. The nightingale did the same for John Keats and the skylark for Shelley.
You may have all the knowledge in the world and yet be discontented. What you lack is folly: the readiness to risk all that you hold as the most precious. Why not step out of your certainties for once? Why not look at the rainbow and the daffodil for a change? Listen to the nightingale and the skylark? And perceive what they long to tell you?
A different kind of knowledge will descend on you then. That’s wisdom. That’s folly. That’s joy.