[Warning: this post contains a few curse words].
The word ‘idiot’ is my pet peeve. I don’t get called an idiot very often, although it has happened, in spite of the fact that I carry my Mensa card in my wallet. It’s not about me. I don’t like hearing people calling other people idiots. It’s a sign of a particular way of thinking that is particularly unproductive.
Let’s do a thought experiment.
Someone is an idiot. Then what? What is your request? What is your desired course of action? Do you want this person put in the stocks? Are “idiots” supposed to wear a special t-shirt or have their driver’s licenses revoked? Are you simply trying to warn other people to stay away from this alleged idiot? Are the people you are telling about the idiot running any risk of encountering this person, or was it merely a passing encounter? Do you want someone to reimburse you for the time you spent thinking about the idiot in question?
Someone is not actually an idiot. Then what? Is your idiot detector malfunctioning? Have you been bamboozled by a master of disguise? Could it be that the “idiot” is actually a highly intelligent, effective person and you aren’t clever enough to realize that you are in fact in the presence of greatness?
Someone is an idiot, but you are, too, sometimes. The only answer for this debacle is gladiatorial combat.
Does ‘idiot’ have a clinical meaning? I’m a firm believer in the concept that Words Mean Things, and I like to be precise. I’m currently at work on a thesis parsing the difference between a dumbass, a dumbshit, and a dumbfuck. It’s a hot topic in the field of linguistics. Theory would indicate that the grammatically permissible options of ‘dumbhole’ and ‘dumbbag’ lack sufficient punch and would only qualify as insults through backformation. Anyway, back to idiots. An ‘idiot’ is a type of person who suffers from low intelligence, acts in a self-defeating or counterproductive way, or says or does stupid things.
Hmm. Maybe I am an idiot. I do and say stupid things every day!
Technically I do stupid things on accident, and say stupid things on purpose, except for when I don’t. I’m not scared. Stupid things happen when you leave your comfort zone sometimes. Experience has taught me that the lessons I learn through stupid mistakes are permanent, while the lessons I read or see tend to get forgotten and fall by the wayside. Knowledge is fleeting; insight is forever.
I fell up a flight of stairs in front of a group of people once. Well, I’ve done that more than once. This particular time, I was walking and reading a book at the same time, and I fell because I wasn’t looking where I was going. It was really stupid. I didn’t get hurt, though (or quit doing it), and several years later, technology caught up to me. I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I walked instead. It was this new habit that helped convince me I could train for a marathon without getting bored. It’s not idiocy, it’s a bias toward action!
I’m not defensive about doing and saying stupid things because that’s how I learn new skills and languages. It’s the gauntlet that must be passed on the way to mastery. You can’t get to 100 without starting at zero. Everyone was born into this world a naked, clueless baby, too dumb to tie a pair of shoes or spell its own name. Babies are also terrible drivers. They can’t figure out which way to turn a screwdriver. They don’t clean up after themselves, they never apologize, they have no manners whatsoever, they’re hopeless at writing succinct email, and they’re totally unproductive. Talk about someone who needs constant micromanaging. Babies, I tell ya. I wouldn’t hire one.
That’s the thing. If a person truly has low intelligence, where is the blame? I haven’t seen someone mock a mentally handicapped person since middle school. That’s about the lowest, meanest thing anyone can do. What are they supposed to do about it? Snap their fingers and get smarter? How very, very unfair. Someone who is below average intelligence deserves compassion and the occasional helping hand. Someone who hassles that person instead deserves a kick in the ass.
Or does he? Could it be that someone who ridicules others doesn’t know any better? Maybe that person has always felt rejected and insulted, and doesn’t know of any other way to behave. Maybe that rude person is on a fruitless quest for respect and doesn’t understand how dignity works. Maybe that person has never seen compassion in action, or has, but didn’t understand what was happening. Adding contempt to contempt doesn’t seem like it has ever done much good.
Most of us know better than that. I assume we’re only using the pejorative term ‘idiot’ when we believe the target subject is of at least average intelligence and is misusing this native gift. This is when we reach the part of the definition that includes acting in a self-defeating or counterproductive way. Again, are we assuming this person is doing it on purpose? I deliberately popped myself in the eye with an umbrella handle because that’s my idea of a good time? I sat in grease at the movie theater because I saw it in the seat and thought, “Ooh, what larks!”? I walked around with static-cling nylon panties hanging out of my sweater all day because I was hoping someone would take my picture for the yearbook? I threw my keys in the dumpster because it’s part of my CrossFit WOD? I could go on; I did state clearly that I do stupid things all the time, and I also said I like to be precise. Do I do counterproductive things? Like procrastinating? Never! DEATH FIRST! I never do counterproductive things, and neither does anyone else. That’s why gaming is a $90+ billion dollar industry and snack food is over $370 billion.
Self-disclosure: I’m a life coach. It’s my vocation to work with people who struggle with things that come easily to others. My people are all not just above average intelligence, but in the top tier. That’s because intelligence has nothing whatsoever to do with success. Intelligence doesn’t have anything to do with friendship, romance, body image, or lots of life’s prizes. My people tend to have some issues with organization, something that never came naturally to me either, and they also have a lot of problems with shame. They feel like failures, like their efforts never amount to anything. Whenever we encounter insults, trolling, sarcasm, snarkiness, or even pointless one-star product reviews, we think, “It’s true, we are all swimming in an endless sea of criticism and contempt.”
It is true. We are.
The main reason not to talk about idiots, other than the fact that it’s cruel and leads to a heartless, cold world, is that it wastes time. Why would I spend my time thinking about people who are doing dumb things, much less talking about them? Don’t I have better things to do? Well, it depends on the nature of the dumb thing. A lot of idiotic things are hilarious to watch and some are a lot of fun to try. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where there was no room to be silly. Unfortunately, it’s too late; I already live in a world where there is no upper limit to criticism, mockery, ridicule, or public shaming. That’s why I’ll never stop doing and saying stupid things. It’s the best way to always do what I want and live without fear. It’s also a great way to help other people not to feel alone when they occasionally screw up or get unintended results.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.