defending stupid

I was minding my own business recently when someone close to me called me stupid. I’d lapsed into ignorance, slipped up, made a mistake, forgotten something important – because I’d been distracted by something more interesting. I’d chosen wonder over logic.

I haven’t had much experience with being called stupid (my issues were around the way I looked). I was raised in an extended family of overt smarties. Valedictorians, patent-holders, and unabashed nerds populate the family tree. (During a Thanksgiving dinner at my Uncle Garvin’s, encyclopedia volumes were fetched to the table to resolve debate regarding the invention of margarine.)

Mom was a proud member of Mensa (“The International High IQ Society”). She would take me and my brother to the local public library to check out stacks of books within 48 hours of moving to a new town (which we did often). Dad had a “Let’s try it and see what happens” attitude and could be counted on to shrug and consider mistakes part of the experimental process.

Though I was teased often about the way I looked, no one ever called me stupid. I found solace in learning and in having answers. If people stuck around long enough to get to know me, my thoughtfulness and ability to learn, my patience and ability to teach seemed to make the way I looked immaterial. I loved that. It changed the way I thought of myself and helped heal the effects of the teasing.

When I was called stupid recently, I became interested. I’d been caught being an ignorant doofus, but it hadn’t felt the way I always thought stupid would feel. It felt good, actually. It felt … promising. Like the corner I was stumbling around could only be navigated on my hands and knees, and as I rounded the edge I’d find amazements I couldn’t find while trying to be smart. While being stupid, I felt open and awestruck.

stupid – lacking in ability, ignorant, simpleminded, slow, vacuous, unthinking, foolish, dazed, half-baked, half-witted, thickheaded, naive, nonsensical, out to lunch, simple, daft.

Stupid’s early life as the verb stupere was spent describing the state of being amazed or stunned. In fact, many of the synonyms for stupid describe states I want to (and often do) embody in my quests for creativity, knowledge, and wisdom.

Not knowing but wanting to know, following trails around corners in a state of ignorance, lured by amazement – that’s how we learn. Being stupid is the first step toward being smart, even when that step is a crawl.

“If you want to improve,
be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

I’ll confess now that it was me who called me stupid. It’s really okay. I’ve decided I’ll take it as a compliment.

Remember those t-shirts that were the rage a while back (or maybe you weren’t born yet)? “I’m with stupid,” they said, with an arrow pointing to the side. If you want to wear one of those t-shirts, I’ll gladly walk beside you.

12 comments to defending stupid

  • Well, you’re really a genius. That’s a fact. Thank you for sending me to this WONDERful post! What a great way of looking at stupid. It’s just brilliant. The bonus was reading all the lovely comments. xoxo

  • Marki

    Grace, I too, LOVE the way you turned it around. To share a similar experience, some time ago someone told me I was condescending. Now, I’ve *never* been told that before, most people complain about my lack of confidence. So instead of feeling insulted, I felt puzzled, and it gave me a chance to feel what it might feel to be someone who was confident enough to condescend. Interesting how a seeming insult can really be a gift.

  • How lovely to find your blog today! Ah, I’m just in love with playing with words and concepts- and this, to look at “stupid” in such a wonderful way. I’ve used stupid almost as a verbal tic- “well, that was stupid”, referring to some not-well-considered action or other. Recently I was becoming disturbed by the fact that my children have picked this up- while I don’t generally say “I’m stupid”, I have heard them say it of themselves. It hurts me to hear this- and I have become more conscious of my own language. But to have a turnaround- stupid is where learning and exploration begins- that’s such a simple, wonderful reframe. Thank you.

    • Hi, Lesley … Yipee! Stupid makes a comeback. This reminds me of how the word “queer” went from being an insult to something more positive, as it was taken on and owned by the gay community.

  • Perturbed. That’s how I initially felt when I first started reading this post. WHO would *dare* say such a thing to the most non-stupid person I know? And then I later learned, it was you who said it. And then I also learned, the essence of stupidity is a domicile I often inhabit, too. Whether following you down a mysterious island trail, or an a-ha essay like this one, I love your bends and twists, Grace. Mmmwuah!! And thank you :-))

    • Erika, we could stick a mis-spelled sign outside that fort we made on the beach with Jacquelyn that says: sTewpIDity aLLoWeD. Thank you for walking down so many trails with me, too.

  • Bharatbhushan Nirmal

    I am amazed at the way things are related to a story and people then remember it.

  • Grace, of course you could find a way to take a potentially negative thought and turn it into a positive one! Your love of language and curiosity abound and we are all the luckier for it. I will not wear one of those t-shirts, but I’ll gladly walk beside you any day!!!

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