Everyone Is Stupid, Everyone Is Smart

I abhor the categorization of people as either stupid or smart. One thing I’ve learned in life, Vera, is that we’re both.

Everyone is smart in certain ways. And we’re all stupid at times. Of course, ratios may vary from person to person.

I realize society likes to put people into buckets. Our educational system promotes the idea that people who get good grades, or who attend college, are smart. And everyone else is not-so-smart (or, worse yet, dumb)._dsc0436

That’s ridiculous. I’ve known many people with B.A.’s and Ph.D.’s who didn’t seem very smart, and many people without any formal education who were incredibly savvy and smart.

A schoolmate who rode the same bus that picked me up in the morning and took us to our high school was in “special ed.” What that meant, of course, is that her cognitive abilities were well below average. But she wasn’t stupid. She navigated life with what she was given. She was on that bus every morning. She put forth the effort. She was all that she could be.

We have no say in what we’re given. We do have say in how we use it.

Sometimes we confuse smarts with luck. Truly smart people know the difference.

For me, stupid and smart aren’t traits. They’re actions. Ways of acting. Decisions.

For me, stupid is when we act as though we know more than we do, or when we make decisions that aren’t in our best interest. Smart is when we know what we know,¬†know what we don’t know, and act accordingly, in our best interest.

Stupid is when we’re being played and don’t know it. Smart is when the person playing us is doing exactly what we set them up to do. (I have to confess that I take delight in seeing people think they’re sticking it to me when they’re actually playing their part in the outcome I planned.)

Stupid is assuming. Smart is discovering and discerning.

Stupid is when we think we control more than we do, or when we fail to control that which we can. Smart is realizing how little is within our control but making the most of it.

Stupid is believing you’re right about everything. Smart is hoping your wrong about certain things.

Stupid is thinking we’re the center of the universe (a god, of sorts). Smart is realizing we don’t even know the extent of the universe.

Stupid is mindlessness. Smart is mindfulness.

I consider all of my students to be smart, regardless of their “book smarts” or IQ (which, in my opinion, is a very misleading measurement). It’s up to them to act in smart or stupid ways. Every semester, I see it play out both ways, and I don’t mean grade distribution. If I do my job well, they’ll be smarter when they leave my course than when they arrived. Sometimes it feels like I did my job well; other times it feels like I’ve been a total failure. But then I remind myself that stupid is not a condition, and that some or all of these students may end up making really smart choices before it’s all over.

There have been times I’ve acted very smartly, and other times I’ve been dumb beyond belief. And there have been other times when I have no idea whether my decisions were smart or stupid.

I don’t know what your IQ is or will be, Vera, and, quite frankly, I don’t care. It has absolutely nothing to do with your worth or the contribution you might end up making to your family, community or world. Or whether you’ll be happy.

But I do care that you don’t fall into the habit of being stupid. That wouldn’t be the smart thing to do.