Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stupidity vs. Nobility

We should never underestimate the degree of stupidity that exists in the world. The understanding and application of this idea can greatly simplify and reduce the amount of pain and frustration in our lives. It does not mean everyone is stupid, or that everything done is done stupidly. What it does mean is that we should not be surprised when things get screwed up, or upset when people disappoint us. Matter of fact, we should be appreciative when things go smoothly and people act in the right way. Everything changes when you recognize this one basic point.

What prompted me to write this blog was two separate conversations I just heard on the radio while driving home from shopping at Sam's Club. (I bought one of their cooked chickens, one of the better deals on the market today.) The conversations were focused on Obama's speech to the Muslim world. Both talk show hosts, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, were criticizing Obama for denigrating the United States to the Arab world. They were berating him for not being more critical of Muslims, for not pointing out how horrible Islam has been. They were also outraged that he would admit that the United States was not perfect. They were shocked that he did not tell them all the great things we have done for the world in general, and Arabs in particular.

Why was Obama speaking in this way? I can think of four possible reasons. #1-He believes that taking the humble, apologetic tact will in the long run be to our biggest advantage. #2-He actually believes what he is saying and is committed to the truth as a way to govern. #3-He has a neurotic need to be liked and says whatever he has to in the moment to get his audience to like him. #4-He hates the United States, loves the Muslins, and is trying to help them defeat us.

The talk show hosts did not consider the possibility that #1 and #2 might be his motivation. They were convinced that it was either #3 or #4. Callers were expressing their outrage that Obama could be so anti-American and not espouse our virtues.

Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. He was elected by popular and electoral vote. It could be that his strategy about how to handle foreign affairs and create world peace is unrealistic, idealistic, or just wrong. But to think that his primary motivation is to be liked, or to harm America, is ridiculous. To constantly criticize your leadership for being anti-American is anti-American. It doesn't strength our image or generate confidence in America. But millions of people are absolutely convinced that they are right in this matter.

The world is filled with people who believe their viewpoint is correct and that anyone who disagrees is either wrong or crazy. This way of thinking prevents change and compromise, two ingredients of progress. A great definition of stupidity is "a poor ability to understand or profit from experience." To anyone who has paid close attention to life it should become obvious that things are never exactly the way they seem to be, it is very hard to predict the future, and that no matter how sure you are about anything there is always the possibility that you might be wrong.

If we want to make any headway against stupidity we need to start with ourselves and constantly keep in mind that anything and everything we believe may not be right. We need to develop a nimbleness, a flexibility, and an ability to readjust our thinking to more accurately reflect the conditions that exist in the moment. It is this ability to be in the moment, to think in the moment, and to act in the moment, that offers hope of creating a better world. Only if we do this can we can begin to shift our expectations, to live from the view that we should never underestimate the nobility of man.


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  2. I thought the speech was inspiring and even-handed. Of course, I anticipated a negative response from right-wing critics--just as I anticipated that I would like the speech. Sometimes I think every opinion is already preordained. The fact, though, that my opinion was preordained to be positive doesn't mean I'm be able to see whether or not my leader is anti-me, anti-my country. To say that he is anti-American is simply absurd. Hannity and Dobbs aren't helping the world; they're hurting it.

  3. Tommy Lee Jones' character said it well in Men In Black when he observed that "a person is smart; people are dumb, dangerous, panicky animals..."

    We need humility.