Monthly Archives: January 2011

2011: Embracing Stupidity

Albert couldn't tell his right from his left

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.
– Mark Twain, Notebook, 1887

I overthink most things.  I brood; over plans, ideas and life in general. The dreamiest place i know is inside my head, and it can become so cluttered with thoughts I’m crippled by inaction. It’s kind of like living The Secret Life of Walter J. Mitty. Or, wait! Even better, like this line from the TS Eliot poem:

Do I dare disturb the Universe?/ In a minute there is time. /For revisions and decisions / which a minute will reverse.

Starting projects is not a problem, but completing them is, not because I don’t want to, but because my brain won’t let me. Yes, I’m placing the blame on my over-thinking brain.

How often do we wistfully say, “if only things were simpler.” My longing lately goes more like this, “If only I could be stupid”…by this I mean, less thinking, more action. It sounds wrong, but hear me out. As per usual, it’s all about a healthy balance.

There is a fine line between genius and stupidity; between the mad scientist and then just a really brilliant one. Getting ahead in life according to social mores and making gobs of money doesn’t necessarily make you a genius. Being scattered and unable to move forward in the ways that are deemed culturally correct doesn’t make you unintelligent. Defining what is dumb and smart, and how society accepts both has been contemplated time and again.

The first time I encountered this conceptual debate was in junior high while reading  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The story goes: A lab janitor yearns to be smarter. He attains it through a radical scientific experiment. The smarter he becomes, the more he ostracizes everything he’s loved. Slowly, the experiment fails and he slips back into a state of mental slowness and his life is better for it…kind of…no. not really. It’s a sad story, expressing the highs are too high, the lows are too low, and best to stick with what you got.

More recently I fortuitously found a more inspiring documentary by Benita Raphan called, Great Genius and Profound stupidity.

Raphan interviews various people, like Oliver Sacks, and tells the stories of others, like Hellen Keller, who throughout history were once considered dumb, and later, professed to be the great geniuses of humanity.

Advertisers too are diving into the sociological game of what makes you genius. Is it stupidity? Maybe it’s your jeans. At least Diesel thinks so. Based on my earlier self-musings, I tend to agree with them…on stupidity, not jeans…just in a less flashy advertisement kind of way.  Here is their latest ad campaign manifesto, “Be Stupid”.

We now know there are different types of intelligence. For several decades, Dr. Howard Gardner has researched how different brains have different, distinct “smarts”.  Even intelligence is relative. I’d like to think we are all endowed in one category or another.

Whatever your intelligence/s might be, they are hard to tap into without a little focused action. It’s easy to read this,  get inspired for 30 seconds and move on. It’s easy to live in our heads or on a screen, and as our senses become overwhelmed by the multi-media encompassing life, it becomes harder to “do”.  So, I lift my coffee mug in a toast and a call to action: Here’s to a little more doing and a little less thinking in 2011. Here’s to balance. Here’s to embracing both the uniqueness of our genius and the wonder of our stupidity. Cheers.

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