One of the things I tell my kids all the time, in an attempt to help them cope, is “people are stupid; get over it.” For a long time they saw this as being cynical; in some ways they still do, but they’ve also matured enough to see it for what it is: coping with unavoidable idiocy.
The thing is, the sentiment isn’t actually true; it’s just an apparent truth.
What’s the difference between an actual truth and an apparent truth? An actual truth is rigid, deductive, verifiable; an apparent truth is “good enough.” I might say “that line is roughly represented as
y=2x” and be apparently true – while the actual truth might be
y=1.99x. I’m saying here that people aren’t actually stupid all that often, but if you act as if they are, everything more or less hangs together. This paragraph, by the way, would be “apparently true” at best. Perception against assertion.
I know very few actually stupid people. (I know some, but certainly not enough to make a general statement about people as a whole.) Yet everyone I know – including me – is capable of being amazingly stupid on a regular basis. That “regular basis” is where the defensiveness of “people are stupid” comes in handy.
By accepting that people can be stupid at pretty much any moment, I learn to not take offense quite so easily as I might. This justification makes me easier to get along with – or so I hope! – and certainly reduces how argumentative I can be.
And I can be argumentative. I have my own narrative, after all, just like anyone else does, and I respond to challenges to that narrative just like most people do: my reptilian brain kicks into fight or flight mode, and I bristle with thoughts that start with “Let me tell you why you’re wrong…”
But if I have that “people are stupid” mantra in my head, I get to see the challenges in multiple ways, most of them useful.
First, I get to see them as the mutterings of a wayward and ignorant child. People are stupid, after all.
Then I get to consider the challenge for what it is, on its own merits. Maybe it’s valid, after all, because if people are stupid, and I am a person, too, then it follows logically that I, too, am stupid sometimes.
After that I get to apply the second half of the mantra, and “get over it,” no matter what the “it” is.
Is it that I was being unfair in my criticism of the mote in my neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in my own? Well, I’m stupid, too, but I have to live with myself, too: get over it. I will do my best, but in the end I have to get over it.
Is it that people wanted to comment before understanding? Well… okay, that’s stupid, but get over it! They’re following their own narrative, after all, and maybe they thought I was threatening one of their sacred cows; who knows, maybe I was. In the end, I have to live with them, unless I’ve decided that there is no compromise with error… a position I equate with evil.
By the way, “compromise” here does not mean “I accept something that is wrong as being right.” You might believe that having a certain skin color, or a certain belief, makes one individual worth less than another; if that’s what you think, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. There is no way you’re going to convince me that an individual’s physical characteristics are indicative of value. But even if you’re a racist, I can get along with you without agreeing with you; a wall does nobody any good, and there’s no way I can ever convince you of what I believe is true if we can’t communicate. “I’d rather you were dead” is just as evil as other evils can be.
To me, “people are stupid, get over it!” is cynical, but useful. It accepts a bleak perspective on humanity, while enabling empathy and rational response. I’d rather hold a more positive view if I could – but then again, it’d be easier to hold a more positive mantra in mind if people weren’t, you know, so insistent on being stupid in the first place.