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Updated: 12/13/2013 @ 1:08pm

“Being dead is easy – you don’t even know it, your condition only impacts those people around you. In that respect, it’s much like being stupid.”

That quote made me laugh the first time I saw it. I just wish I could remember who to credit it to.

Yeah, it’s a little mean, but on the other hand, when you speak the truth straight out people almost always think you’re being mean.  Remember the famous Harry Truman quote?  He was campaigning for president and during a speech someone yelled at him, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” He replied, “I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth on them, and they think it’s hell.”

There’s a tremendous amount of stupid going on in the world, and if so much of it didn’t affect me, I wouldn’t care. Once someone becomes a grownup they should be able to do pretty much whatever they want, as long as their actions don’t damage anyone else. Sadly, more often than not, stupid can cast a pretty wide net.

The English language has some limitations. When I say “stupid,” I mean something specific, and just because you had trouble in algebra class in high school doesn’t mean I’m talking about you. Actually, I think stupid smart people cause way more damage in this world than the folks who just have a little trouble picking up new information, mainly because the smart people seem to have so much trouble recognizing just how dumb they are.  

The problem with being smart is that you can absolutely excel in one part of your life – as a doctor, professor, or a politician - and that can lead you to the opinion that since you’re such an expert in one particular field, you’re equally knowledgeable about everything.  

That’s a mistake.

Just because you can pilot a jet plane, diagnose a ruptured appendix, or figure out a way to get a baffled electorate to put you into office doesn’t mean you know anything about evolution, economics, or the right way to install drywall.  

Now, everything else being equal, it’s easier to be smart, simply because you’re more likely to have the ability to learn what you don’t know. If you do choose to educate yourself, you’ll have a leg up, because you know how to study and where to find new information.  But competence in one field does not grant you automatic skills anywhere else. That’s where being stupid is a little like being dead – you don’t know it, and it only affects the people around you.

Being an expert is falling out of fashion, and I think it’s because being an expert has somehow gotten to the point where it’s considered more all-encompassing than it really is.   

That’s a shame. We need experts because no one person can know everything about everything, and in a complicated world, everyone needs a little guidance from time to time.

Being stupid is easy, and many of the smartest stupid people don’t realize they are, and it affects all of us way too much.

Copyright 2013 Brent Olson

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