Nasrudin, a wise yet sometimes foolish man, was invited by village elders to speak in their village mosque for three consecutive weeks. Nasrudin, who knew he had many wise ideas in his head, had foolishly neglected to prepare a sermon. That first morning, he stood at the door of the mosque, puffed out his chest and decided to wing it. He turned to the people and asked, “My beloved, who amongst you knows that of which I speak?” and the people looked down and said, “We are poor simple people. We do not know that of which you speak.” He then threw his robe across one shoulder and pronounced, “Well, then there is no need of me here” and marched right out the door.
The people were curious and the next week when Nasrudin was to speak even more gathered. Again, Nasrudin had not bothered to prepare his thoughts. He strode to the front and turned to the people and asked, “My beloved, who amongst you knows that of which I speak?” and this time the people stood up and said, “We do! We know that of which you speak!” Old Nasrudin didn’t miss a beat. He threw his robe across his shoulder and said, “Well, then there is no need of me here.” and marched out the door.
On the morning of the third week, Nasrudin stood no more prepared than that first day. He confidently walked to the front and turned to the people and asked once more, “My beloved, who among you knows that of which I speak?” This time they had a plan! Half of the people said, “We are poor simple people. We do not know that of which you speak.” and the other half stood up and said, “We do! We know that of which you speak!” Old Nasrudin stood for a moment and said, “Then if those of you who know would tell those who don’t, there is no need of me here.” With that, he threw his robe across his shoulder and left the building.
Source: Annette Simmons and Doug Lipman
The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling
(Basic Books; 2nd edition (April 4, 2006) pages 49-50
Here’s a shorter version of the same story
Mulla Nasrudin preached on Fridays at the village mosque. One day, having nothing to preach about, he asked the congregation:
“Do you know the subject I am going to discuss today?”
“No” said the people.
“Then I refuse to preach to such an ignorant assembly. How could you not know given the events of the past week?” asked Nasrudin and left hurriedly.
Next Friday he went up the pulpit and asked: “Do you know the subject of my sermon today?”
People fearing a repetition of what had taken place a week before nodded and said: “Yes yes, indeed we know.”
“Well, then. There is no point in telling you what you already know”, said Nasrudin and left.
On the third Friday he ascended the pulpit and asked: “Do you know what I am going to speak about today?”
Not knowing what to say, some said yes and some said no.
“Then those who know can tell those who don’t”, said Nasrudin and left.
This is a wise and foolish man – he looks foolish but he is very wise in his foolishness; he looks very wise but he is behaving like a fool.
Wisdom and foolishness are together in life; if you dissect them then wisdom will be separate and foolishness will be separate, but both will be dead. The greatest art of life is to let them grow together in such a balance that your wisdom carries a certain quality of foolishness, and your foolishness carries a certain quality of wisdom. Then you are total. Then you are whole.