Hi Mawkish -- Here come some words from the badly-informed:
I always liked those verses, which, in the P. Lal translation that is falling apart on my bookshelf read: "If you find no better of equal on life's road, go alone./Loneliness is better than the friendship of a fool."
I always liked the words, but like you, wondered at what they could mean in a daily life. Who precisely is or could be the fool? I mean the question not in order to elicit textual references, but rather as an up-close-and-personal inquiry.
Over the years, since I first read and loved and was confused by those lines, I guess I came upon various interpretations that, in practical terms, suited me. And in no way would I claim now to have a 'definitive' bead on them. But as I hear them today, what I think of is this:
As regards Buddhist practice, every (wo)man walks like Jesus into his or her own desert. I don't mean to be melodramatic, I just think it's true for anyone concerned with a no-fooling-around understanding. Friends and wise (wo)men and fools can all suggest one direction or another, but a practicing student must inevitably go alone.
And it is in that adventure that each encounters true friends and true fools. Each is instructive. Each is a barrier. Each is a blessing. Each is a curse. Why so? Because there is no one else in this particular desert. It's just me. Or it's just you. Or ... it's just us -- not separate and not one. Separating wise men from fools is one sort of mistake. Failing to separate wise men and fools is another. We are not alone. We are not together.
We are ... well ... what a trip!