I learned many things from my Sainted Granny, that wonderful, loving, red-headed Irish elf. She was a woman of very few well-chosen words. “I have no time for gossip, Edward. It rots the brain like sugar rots the teeth”, she would remind me. This from the wise matriarch who was reading ingredient labels on the side of packaged foods long before it came into vogue, and could have been the epicenter for the eventual war on overloaded salt in our food.
One day, I was telling her about something that happened at school. It revolved around yet another schoolyard “tussle”, the word we preferred using when in actuality it was a full scale fight, fists and all. For those who think boys AND girls going to private elementary school back in the dark ages were all sugar and spice, I’ll wager there are more battle scars from those hallowed halls than any of the public schools dotting the landscape. At least, way back when. Today’s generations? You’re on your own.
The “incident” started when one kid named Michael, whom I have no doubt grew up to be a professional agitator starting battles among others in order for him to slither in the back door for the purposes of ill-gotten gain, loudly and repeatedly berated a kid named Mike for being “stupid”.
Kids are brutal, this we know. Mike was a buddy of mine, and there was no doubt looking back with the refined lens of today that he suffered emotional issues. He was a very sensitive kid that didn’t like to fight and was always being teased about something. Peppered with a lot of tough one-liners, “stupid” was a catalyst word for him and many others. Before generations turned to words much more descriptive and vulgar, “stupid” was, to some, an “end of the line” drop word.
As in drop the gloves, kid. We’re going. Right here and now.
Figurative gloves were dropped. Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria. One really well done shiner came out of that scrum, and to this day, I have NO idea who dished it out.
Honestly. No idea. It all gets a little hazy there for a moment or two.
Recanting the story for Granny, she listened, waited, offered me another slice of that heavenly sponge cake, (a recipe that has long been lost and I would commit crimes to find and put to use again), and offered up one of her more standard and oft-repeated slices of life.
“It’s never polite to call anyone stupid, Edward”.
I took the bait as she knew I would.
“Why not? I mean, if someone IS stupid, what’s wrong with calling them out?”
“Because”, she noted in her very crisp and perfectly enunciated words, “you have control over your words and how people judge you. When you drop yourself to the level of those who insult for no reason, you’re no better than them. They will speak ill of you. And I know my Grandson is better than the rest”.
When Granny puts it like that, there’s no place to go. Of course, she was right.
However, now, in our current societal state of massive misinformation, verbal misdirection and obfuscation, some might believe we have reached the point of reconsideration. Perhaps we should seek to be more brutally honest with how we characterize those moments where plain and simple language needs to be used.
Is it possible that in order to cut thru the noise, we need to drop the PC veils and call something or someone stupid, simply to be categorically correct?
There is no doubt we all use the “S” word, as perhaps some would term it for fear of insulting another. Hands up from those who have thought to themselves at any time in recent months or minutes, “damn, that was so stupid of me”, or some such inner admonition?
Mine’s raised. C’mon, now. ‘Fess up.
When should we let it out and go public with the “S” word when talking to or about someone, or some thing, else?
Social media has certainly loosed the word, and many others far more personally and professionally damaging, on a world that has become angrier than at any time save perhaps for the announcement of “New Coke”. You young’uns in the audience might need to look that up, but it was indeed a turning point in American cultural history and without question was one of the more stupid things any alleged intelligent business has ever pulled.
“Stupid” is making a comeback. It’s used on the attack, to stoke the angry fires of confrontation, to belittle someone for their beliefs, and to characterize our current predilection for discussing politics while being mostly uninformed.
Here’s the poser and quandary many now find themselves locked into.
If someone does indeed proffer an opinion based on provable half-truths, complete lies, uninformed opinion, nonsense, concocted stories, general idiocy or just plain bovine excrement, what is then wrong with using the honest word instead of beating around the verbal bush?
There is a groundswell that has many losing their patience in creating a phrase such as, “I do see your point, but in essence, if you would do the research and learn from those who understand the facts, you might find that your idea is outrageously wrong and could impact the opinion others have of you should you repeat it without further clarification”.
Instead, a shorter and more to the point response might be, “are you aware of how incredibly stupid that is?”
Have to admit, that shorter line will elicit a reaction much faster than the measured and well crafted PC version.
It’s a conundrum, to be certain. Cutting thru the verbal and textual effluent certainly has it’s place in the business world. Don’t try and sell me for one instant you’ve never thought about it.
It does, however, come with a level of confrontation and brand destruction. It seeks to elevate, or lower, the conversation to a different level where hopefully a solution can be reached faster than tiptoeing thru the figurative tulips. Again, you young’uns will have to do your research to understand the characterization.
Be honest. Intelligent people know when something is stupid. Internal alarms go off, old newsreels of nuclear tests are playing back in your head, you begin to wonder how this person has enough cranial electricity to power legs doing simple motions of walking without collapsing.
But should you call someone out? Would honesty not be the better policy, no matter the outcome? In using the word, might you not terminate a conversation or relationship that might, in the end, just be a colossal waste of your time and theirs?
Certainly, it’s a consideration. One that you have to make and be comfortable with.
Know that the instant you drop the “S” word, the discussion and the interaction between you and that person, or persons, changes forever. Even if you call an idea stupid, you are calling the person who authored it stupid. They won’t see it any other way.
The person you referred to as stupid will pass the word along his or her network. Those offended or affected on social media will do the same. Personal and professional branding wildfire ensues, especially if you put it in writing and it’s been captured or shared.
Certainly, there will be plenty of people in complete agreement. They’ll back you up, call you insightful, praise you for standing up to those lacking in real knowledge or facts, and you might even escape with little or no damage.
Not likely. You’re toast. You can’t win.
Word of mouth allows no room for discussion or interjection. You have no way of knowing where it goes and how the words are twisted in every retelling. On social media, it’s shared to the entire planet in seconds. Don’t forget those who will screen capture the post and shovel it out in that manner, so even if you post and delete in seconds, chances are someone has it. Those words will come back to haunt you.
So while you may be completely correct in your assertion and conclusion, there is nothing to be gained by using the “S” word in a conversation. If you do feel the need to employ it, or believe you’re possibly about to say something that could be marked by anyone else as stupid or insulting, shsut the trap and keep it to yourself. Take the lesson Don Corleone taught when making an example of eldest son, when Sonny couldn’t keep his mouth shut in front of a rival family. You could see the Dons mental gears working and thinking, “how could my kid be so damn stupid?” (The 3:50 mark of the video will jog your memory. However, watching the entire clip would never be considered stupid as this is, after all, “The Godfather”.)
Whether C-Level management or first time admin, there is nothing positive to be publicly gained in calling someone stupid.
However, there is something to be said for tucking away your knowledge of an individual or an action, rationally consider it, do your homework, and then perhaps come to a conclusion about what you’ve heard and what it says about the author.
Make this part of your strategy base moving forward.
As much as it’s important to know your friends and enemies, it’s also critical to know whom in your collective sphere isn’t playing with a full shuffle. Coming to grips with the irrationality of another will guide you in not just your interaction with that person, but if you want to be perceived as part of their circle.
It’s part of another Granny Berliner wisdom, “People will judge you by the company you keep”. That, however, is another commentary for another time.
Knowing with whom you’re dealing puts you ahead of the game. Knowing how they think, what they believe in, their opinions on key issues and their emotional stability when it comes to rational conversation, gives you a tactical advantage, professionally and personally.
Best to tuck your findings away in a mental corner, stay silent, (another “S” word that’s good to consider in personal and professional dealings with certain people), and use it for an another place and time.
Granny was correct. It’s never polite to call anyone stupid, and people will speak ill of you. The damage could be irreversible.
It’s about a lot more than just being polite. In this time and age, it’s more about understanding and properly utilizing the information you’ve gathered. About yourself, and certainly about others.
Take your tip from Granny. Have a slice of sponge cake. It’s excellent brain food.
Nothing stupid about it.