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Stupid?

Instinctively we know that ‘stupid’ isn’t a word to use to build others up, so why do we use it on ourselves?

In a recent class I taught , someone said that they felt ‘stupid’ about something . I was impacted to the point that I dreamt about it that night. In the dream my student argued with a man who had recently experienced devastating loss through suicide. The man had called all kinds of things and people, stupid, prior to his loss and he now lamented his own stupidity at not seeing the signs and what he had said in anger to his loved one. The student and the opponent argued over which of them were more stupid - each bringing increasingly passionate proofs that they were the more stupid of the two - until they both broke down in tears.


I don’t use this term now about anyone. I never used it for others (well maybe for drunk drivers or fast cars going in excess of 100 miles per hour on the motorway or people parked in places that blocked the way….. but really ‘stupid’ isn’t a good word for any of those behaviours either!). I did however call myself stupid, freely and on a regular basis. I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 46 and studying for my second masters. Growing up in 70’s/80’s my neurodiversity wasn’t understood and I know that I am not alone in the poor self esteem this fostered – stupid was one of the kinder words used for me; cabbage, dense, thick as two short planks, hopeless, useless where others….


I wasn’t stupid at all, but this didn’t stop me from taking it on as a label. Sometimes I would use it like a shield – if I called myself stupid, I spared myself the shame of someone else using that word about me. When the student used that word ‘stupid’ about themselves recently, it echoed round the room like the door was open for confessional – so many identified with the word – so many feeling that they were stupid – mostly a feeling that they should already know something that they are on a course to learn. Experience tells me that something noteworthy is happening when a group of such intelligence and honesty resonates like that.


Why is stupidity such a feared thing? Why are we so uncomfortable with not knowing something or getting it wrong? On some level we all know that it is impossible to know everything and inevitable that we make mistakes and yet we demand so much of ourselves and feel so diminished in the face of ‘not knowing’. I would suggest that there is something to the saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and would go further to say that power gives us the illusion of control.


In therapy I often ask the client if they can sit with ‘not knowing’. Maybe we will never know why that loved one took their own life. Perhaps we will never know why an act of violence was metered out on the innocent. Who can know what tomorrow will bring and why should the client feel that they should have known that their partner was being unfaithful? Truth is, whilst I’m committed to the adventure of life long learning, I will never know everything – I will only get a tiny glimpse of all the things there are to know- does this mean I am stupid?


No, I don’t think so. With so much practice under my belt, I am learning to be comfortable with not knowing. The peace in that place of acceptance of my own fallibility is priceless and possibly the very seeds of wisdom.


Instinctively we know that ‘stupid’ isn’t a word to use to build others up, so why do we use it on ourselves? It will only end in tears …. And who in the world has the time or the stomach for that?

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