We are all smart in our different, dare I say unique even, ways. This seems to be the dominant thinking today. None of us is stupid, it goes, lest someone should get offended. Well, I’ve come to this blog here today to tell you that we are all stupid in our different and, yes, sometimes unique, ways. I’m sorry but that how it is.Take me, for example. I can be stupid in at least half a dozen different ways and while some of them can be put down to brains organisation that’s determined biologically (I honestly don’t know how more neutrally to put it), other ways in which I’m stupid are just that, plain stupidity, although there’s a host of euphemisms meant to make it all look better.
Here’s good example. A few years back I wanted to bake a cake the recipe for which was in cups but the author had helpfully added 1 cup=240 ml as a reference point. Great, I told myself, that’s helpful because since I bought myself kitchen scales I despise the mediocrity of “1 cup of this, 1/2 cup of that.” I want accuracy and I will have it.
Indeed, I did have accuracy with that cake. I put 240 milligrams of flour in the batter instead of however much flour fits in a 240-millilitre cup. I mean, volume, weight, what’s the difference, right? Who even cares about it since a kilo is equal to a litre (I think that’s actually true)? Well, apparently the recipe cared because instead of a soft sponge cake, what I got was a breadoid. Luckily, it was uncritically eaten by my husband’s co-workers. It was a bit scary to imagine what they’re used to eating, to be honest. Not that it was bad. It just wasn’t a cake.
Elementary physics is not my only area of stupidity, though it is the main one. It’s a childhood trauma with physics, an F in the fourth grade that scared me off it forever. Anyway, that’s too painful to talk about now, so let’s move on to geography.
You’ve all seen at least one funny video of Americans thinking Africa is a country or that Brazil’s in Europe. Yeah, okay, that’s very funny and it says more about the educational system than the people themselves but what about the rest of us? It took me years after school to remember where all the major cities in tiny little Bulgaria are and stop embarrassing myself when somebody told me they went to, say, Pleven for vacation, and I started thinking “Was that in the South or the North?” (It’s generally in the northern half of the country, which is kind of rectangular and has a mountain range running along the middle, so the north/south distinction is very helpful.)
But that’s just the large-scale aspect of my geographical stupidity. I also excel at getting lost in otherwise familiar surroundings. I once got lost a street away from where I lived during my English period. The reason I got lost was I boldly decided to try a new route back from school, through the alleys in the neighbourhood instead of the usual route straight through the park and up Chesterton Road, which is a big enough street for me to remember. But those alleys? I felt like a complete idiot wandering around and not finding an opening to the road. Well, I did eventually, but it was a stroke of luck.
Then I got lost in my own neighbourhood in Sofia. I got lost on my street, again because I approached home from a new direction, which messed up with my rudimentary sense of spatial orientation. I got lost 200 yards from home, okay? That’s changed now, because the baby period of my daughter’s life and the obligatory walks helped me familiarize myself with the place and even remember some routes, so this, at least, is curable.
What is, and will most likely remain, incurable is my electricity condition. By electricity condition I mean I cannot for the life of me grasp how electricity works. Yes, I know it flows, I know about electrons and all the various measurements of this and that but I just can’t put it all together and visualise it. And if I can’t visualise it, fully, I file it under “Not understood.” The thought that makes this shame more bearable is that millions of other people are like me, they just don’t think about it because they’re not masochists.
You might disagree that these are examples of stupidity but I insist they are just as stupid as taking a headline at face value without reading the story below. The thing is, I believe we can learn pretty much anything if we just put our mind — and willpower, and stubbornness, and time, and money — to it. Just because I’m bad at spatial orientation doesn’t mean I have to stay this way. I choose to do so, however, because I don’t need to become better at it. Yeah, it’s all about needs and choices, really. We choose to be stupid whatever we tell ourselves. Sadly, we often do it all too willingly because thinking critically could be too difficult, apparently.
I’m also stupid in other, less amusing ways. There are areas in which not only do I not know anything about, but I also don’t want to know anything about. Computer programming comes to mind here, and blockchain, although unfortunately for me I’ve had to learn a little bit about the latter. To me, the combination of ignorance and unwillingness to eliminate that ignorance are perhaps the most apt definition of being stupid. Which is why we are all stupid in one way or another and there is nothing wrong with this. Generally. Usually.
Let’s face it, we can’t be interested in everything there is because there is simply so much of a lot of things for a single brain to have the capacity to be interested in all of them. So, as far as I’m concerned we’re all stupid and it’s totally okay to be stupid. In fact, it’s totally wonderful (This is my new mantra, courtesy of a Twitter friend.).
When I was a kid I lived in a self-styled pressure cooker because the general opinion of family and friends was that I was smart. Like most of us, I was careful about not disappointing the people I care about so I did my best to act smart all the bloody time, which was pretty taxing.
Luckily, we grow and learn and now I’ve seen too many stupids masking their stupidity behind things like complex language and the pretence of knowledge to bother keeping up the act. I’m stupider than I look and I’m not ashamed of it. I actually think it’s the nose. I’m pretty sure if I had a snub nose people wouldn’t be so quick to judge me as smart.
The reason I’m not ashamed of my stupidity is that I know I am smart in many ways, just like the rest of humanity. It’s universal, really. Some of the smartest — here meaning intelligent, emotionally mature, and wise — people I know have also displayed mind-boggling stupidity on occasion. It’s shocking to witness, I admit, but it’s how we all are. We are all stupid and it’s really fine unless this stupidity ends up hurting someone (I’m naturally reminded of anti-vaxxers here). This is when it turns into criminal behaviour as far as I’m concerned.
Now, innocent stupidity may be fine but what’s not fine is passing it off as smartness or at least as a negligible side effect of genius. Example: I’m such a brilliant writer my brilliant brain cannot deploy any of its brilliant — and abundant — resources for spatial orientation. Ha-ha, aren’t I just the genius. Nope.
I don’t drive precisely because of my orientational stupidity. I used to have a driver’s licence but I never really drove so I didn’t renew it when it expired. I would if I had to and I would learn to drive again but it will be a lot harder for me than it is for others and I will be a crappy driver, period. There is only so much I can do to improve my powers of concentration and orientation, so why risk it?
Being stupid can be fun (for others, when you tell them you want to get from point A to point B, which are about half a mile apart across a park, by changing two buses). It can be dangerous as well, however, and it’s that dangerous sort of stupidity that often scares me. Texting while driving, believing everything you hear on the news and thinking Twitter opinion is an accurate representation of popular opinion in the real world are all examples of that dangerous sort of stupidity.
I can’t resist mentioning a favourite one-liner that sums up things pretty well: Smoking kills but so does stupidity. If only we could ban it… life would be horribly boring. So, stay stupid but stay safe, that’s about all I can reasonably wish on the world.