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Stupid is as Stupid Does

Optimize Blog - November 21, 2012 - 0 comments

We all come across people whose actions are hard to justify or even put into context. This often manifests itself during our daily commute where we regularly observe people doing quite crazy things in their vehicles in their attempts to arrive at work a few minutes early. With the advent of cell phones which have high resolution cameras, more and more of these incidents are being recorded and posted on the internet.
For one driver from Ohio that video evidence was actually presented in a court of law. The defendant Shena Hardin was filmed by someone using a mobile phone as she drove up onto the sidewalk and around a school bus to avoid waiting in traffic. Witnesses say she used to routinely drive on the pavement to avoid waiting for the school bus as it stopped to pick up and drop off children in Cleveland.
What caught our attention in this case was the innovative and unusual punishment for this dangerous driver handed down by the judge. Ms. Hardin will have to hold up a sign saying “ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD DRIVE ON THE SIDEWALK TO AVOID A SCHOOL BUS”. The judge was quite specific about the size of the sign and the fact that the message was to be drawn in a large legible font with a black marker so that all those passing her could clearly understand her crime.
Back in 1987 a Professor of Economics from UC Berkeley came up with the five basic laws of human stupidity. Professor Carlo Cipolla suggested that the five laws are:
1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.
At first, the ‘laws’ come across as frivolous, ungenerous and perhaps trite but after some consideration we might be convinced of their validity. Professor Cipolla purported that no matter how high one’s estimates of human stupidity are, one is repeatedly and recurrently surprised by the fact that people whom one had once judged rational and intelligent turn out to be unashamedly stupid and that day after day, with unceasing monotony, one is harassed in one’s activities by stupid individuals who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in the most inconvenient places and at the most improbable moments.
Professor Cipolla went on to consider the power of stupidity and concluded that it is not difficult to understand how social, political and institutional power enhances the damaging potential of a stupid person. But one still has to explain and understand what essentially it is that makes a stupid person dangerous to other people – in other words, what constitutes the power of stupidity.
Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behavior.
General Von Manstein’s infamous view on soldiers in the army suggested that motivated stupid individuals are the most damaging individuals in any group with lazy stupid people being less of a threat.
No one likes having to deal with stupid people, but the truth is most of us have to interact with people who we find to be stupid on a daily basis. Defining stupid is key. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
We are social animals, we need to cooperate with others to get along and be civilized, yet by simple chance we are going to occasionally come across people who we find stubborn, irrational, or just plain annoying. Here are some helpful tips to deal with these so-called “stupid people” more effectively:
1. Try to see things from their perspective
Empathy is our ability to think and feel from another person’s perspective. It is one of the best ways to diminish hostility and intolerance toward others.
2. Acknowledge their strengths.
Try to find the good in everyone. “Stupid people” can often have their own strengths and talents.
3. Be respectful for no good reason.
Even when it appears that you cannot understand a certain person no matter how hard you try to empathize with them, you tried to find their strengths, but failed to find any redeeming qualities. In such a case, sometimes you should just be the “better person” for no good reason.
4. If you absolutely have to – just walk away.
It’s possible that you will cross paths with people in your life who are absolutely unbearable. It happens. We are a very diverse species – with different knowledge, values, interests, and goals – so it makes sense that there will be some people who you just won’t mesh with no matter how hard you try.
And one final thought. Don’t use the sidewalk to avoid school buses because by doing so you will be validating the five laws of stupidity……

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