What Is Stupidity?

We don’t like being called stupid.  It’s insulting and the one who says it obviously has bad intentions against the person he’s labelling as stupid.    

But what does stupid mean, anyway? 

It is not the opposite of smart.  Smart describes cleverness, ingenuity, intelligence, and innovation.  Ignorant would be the best antonym of smart as ignorance implies lacking education or awareness.  Ignorance is not necessarily insulting as it points to a deficiency in learning or skills, although many of us don’t like to be called ignorant nonetheless.  Stupid, however, rudely puts down a person’s character.  Calling someone stupid is abusive and disrespectful.

As much as stupidity is an insult, however, it is a trait that realistically and frequently occurs in our society.  Stupidity happens when one decides and acts against common sense without any logical basis and it results in more harm than benefit.  Martin Lindstrom, author of the best-selling book, The Ministry of Common Sense, defines common sense as:

Common sense refers to the judgment and instinct that has been shaped and refined by experience, observation, intelligence, and intuition. … Common sense is the sum total of our ability to separate right from wrong, efficient from inefficient, useful from pointless, valuable from worthless, orderly from sloppy, clean from dirty, dry from soaked, secure from hazardous, mature from childish, beneficial from harmful, and prudent from ill-advised. Common sense is practical.  It’s reasonable. It’s iterative. It’s dynamic. It’s obvious, or rather, it’s supposed to be obvious. When it’s working, common sense often leads to a sense of happiness, productivity, and an improved quality of life.’

-Lindstrom, Martin. The Ministry of Common Sense. New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. Page 26

We can add that common sense is grounded on personal values and principles shared with the community we live and work in.  Going consciously and willingly against common sense is what we would call stupidity

Examples of stupidity are: 

  • Getting married to someone one is not in love with, not compatible with, or just surely will not get along with;
  • Littering streets or sidewalks in front of one’s own residence or place of business;
  • Running a red traffic light despite opposing & oncoming traffic;
  • Investing in a company that is showing and forecasting certain decline in income & cash;
  • Voting for a person who has a criminal record and is not qualified for the position not only from what people say but also explicitly based on a sovereign nation’s constitution that one agrees with wholeheartedly;
  • Hurting people we love;
  • Biting the hand that feeds us.    

What we hold for ourselves as the right things to do are what we would express as consistent with our values and principles, what we wholly accept from our education and experience.  When we go against these values and principles, that’s stupidity. 

If some of us say that we don’t have clear values and principles, then we have a bigger problem: it means we’re rudderless, meandering, and have no idea what to do or where to go. We would still have common sense and it probably would tell us to get a handle of what are important to us before making any further decisions.  Deciding and moving without knowing what we want and what we hold dear is just plain stupid. 

Stupidity does not mean jumping on a bandwagon like going with friends to buy the same clothes to look groovy with the current fashion or buying the same new gadget everyone else is showing off.  As much as it may look illogical to spend impulsively on stuff just for the sake of prestige, we do it because we decided there and then based on what we see as important, in which in these examples is how we look to other people.  It becomes stupidity when we spend impulsively even though we place more importance to saving money and being humble.  In short, we become stupid when we go against our own beliefs and standards. 

Stupidity offers no justifiable or logical explanation for actions.  It’s putting away reason in favour of none.

Why then do we do stupid things?

Stupidity often is the result of self-deception that often exploits our emotions. We do stupid things because we lead ourselves to believe that doing so would somehow make us feel good.  We go all-in at an eat-all-you-can buffet of desserts even though we are diabetic.  We buy crypto-currency from a friend that promises high interest returns even though we know that the friend’s crypto money is fraught with risk that already has caused bankruptcy with a number of investors.  When we act stupidly, we turn off our consciences which warn us that the stupid thing we are about to do goes against everything we stand for.  

Stupidity is an obstacle to productivity.  Stupidity deserves no place in business as enterprises exist from the values, principles, and visions of their owners.  Productivity comes about from enterprise stakeholders defining what they want and thereby steering performance to fulfilment of those wants. 

Yet, despite the clarity of values, principles, and policies, some enterprises still allow stupidity to seep into their organisations. 

Some examples of stupidity in enterprises:

  • A large financial institution that offers 24/7 online banking convenience to clients and then declare that said services are not available after 5pm weekdays and all day on weekends;
  • An airline that has a mission statement that puts utmost importance to its passengers but has a policy where staff can bump off and forcibly pull a person off a plane even if the said person has a confirmed paid ticket who was already seated by the very same staff;
  • A beverage corporation demands that its No. 1 retail customer pay full price for deliveries received by the latter even though the corporation agreed in a written contract to a 10% discount;
  • An insurance company launches a customer service portal that always crashes and when it does work, is difficult to navigate, while at the same time charges penalties for unpaid billings which the insurance company doesn’t post on the portal or is just not accessible to by its clients;
  • A milk supplier that mixes cheap but poisonous ingredients into its finished product that ends up sickening consumers who drink it. 

The results of stupidity are added cost, other than setbacks in reputation and even possibly, punishment from regulatory agencies.  Productivity suffers and so do the enterprises in which the executives allowed stupidity in the first place. 

No one likes to be called stupid.  But stupidity happens; it is a fixture among us humans which we can all prevent via our common sense.  Stupidity represents our intentional proactive decision to deviate from standards and beliefs we ourselves had set.  We are stupid when we purposefully act against not only our common senses but also from our own values & principles. 

Stupidity happens among enterprises when it shouldn’t as per collective standards and beliefs that underlie their existence and purpose of being.  As much as we may blame human nature and resent being called stupid, we have no one to blame but ourselves when we decisively act against what we firmly believe in. 

Being stupid is just plain dumb. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Published by Ellery

Since I started blogging in 2019, I've written personal insights about supply chains, operations management, & industrial engineering. I have also delved in topics that cover how we deal with people, property, and service providers. My mission is to boost productivity via offering solutions and ideas. If you like what I write or disagree with what I say, feel free to like, dislike, comment, or if you have a lengthy discourse, email me at ellery_l@yahoo.com ; I'm also on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ellery-samuel-lim-40b528b

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