The virtues and vice of stupid

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 15, 2013 1:04 AM

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. You’re having a discussion with someone or worse, an argument, and you make a really stupid comment, something you know is stupid the moment it leaves your mouth, something that haunts you, something you’ll always remember. The minute you say it you wish there was some way to take it back but there it is, out there, circling between you, forever. It comes back at times as if to say ‘hi.’

Sometimes we say things because we misunderstand. Yesterday in the grocery store, in front of the dairy case, we were looking for OJ as well as half and half (which I use for my coffee). Kevin had to stand on the case to reach up and behind for a carton date stamp that wasn’t April 15. I know this because I asked him what he was doing. An older couple came up then and the gentleman said something about us knowing dates too. I thought he meant that we knew what the current date was –don’t ask why – and I smiled and said yes but only because I know Monday is April 15 because it’s tax day.

Later, at home, I realized he was making reference to checking the expiration date. No wonder he looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about. I felt stupid.

The 1994 film Forrest Gump made a bona fide star out of Tom Hanks and introduced us to a number of quotable lines, lines that have become part of our every day dialogue. Who doesn’t know about “Lootenant Dan!” or that “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Or “Run, Forrest!” And then there is the ultimate line: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

There is a lot of stupid out there in the world, some of it on purpose. And no, I won’t get into politics or religion. But there is a lot of stupid out there that’s willful. I speak of the Internet trolls, those that read a story somewhere online and leave nasty, nasty comments that are uninformed and proudly so. As an example, the recent gun debate about expanding background checks. This does not mean the government is coming for anyone’s guns. It simply means that if you’re buying a firearm, someone will run a quick check to make sure you’re not a criminal or a psychopath. Providing you’re neither, the gun is yours. How is that taking away your gun?

But to read comments, it’s as if the FBI is going door-to-door to confiscate every rifle, handgun, semi-automatic and squirt gun that a family possesses.

This is what I call s-t-o-o-p-i-d.  

There is also d-u-m. This is when something less invasive or toxic happens. Usually this involves something within the house. The fact that we ran out of coffee when we knew were low and were just at the store is d-u-m.

D-u-m also means scatterbrained and having a general lack of attention to detail.

D-u-m is just shake your head. S-t-o-o-p-i-d is run for your lives, these people are scary.

There is learned stupidity and there is actual stupidity. The latter is often less violent.

But is there any virtue to either, or are they simply vice? I like to think there is virtue. The fact that I realized that my comment to the elderly couple in the grocery store was wrong made me feel like an idiot, but it was also a learning moment. If we stop being curious about our fellow human beings, about the planet, about what makes dogs so wonderful; about our comments and how we treat each other; about how far we are from the sun, why we only have one moon, how many stars are in the sky; about how to cook a great garlic chicken, make a great red wine, and lose some weight while continuing to eat interestingly spicy food; about how we read more, watch less, interact and absorb. Then we become stupid.

The virtue then is that we don’t know everything and so we tilt our head toward questions. We look for answers. We wonder, we think. Otherwise, we’re just d-u-m. 

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