Sometimes a word is more than that.
“I’m stupid about this stuff.”
I’d heard this phrase from a family member as she spoke about saving docs to Google Drive.
“I felt stupid asking for help.”
I’d heard this phrase from a friend as she described searching for tools in a hardware store.
“I’m stupid. I’m not smart like you.”
I’d heard this phrase from my student as she struggled to read her first book.
And we don’t really think about what it means.
As I sat down with a close friend, I couldn’t help but recall how often I had heard someone refer to themselves as stupid in the last week alone. As she described her trip to the hardware store, we both laughed at the absurdity of the trepidation that comes with asking about something, anything.
In that moment, I realized that I have a bone to pick with the word “stupid”. Stupid. What does that even mean?
Stupid is a word we use to shame people for their lack of knowledge. It doesn’t care about prior life experience, it doesn’t care about your aptitude in this moment, it doesn’t care what your day is like. Stupid is the word we use to tear others down because they don’t know the thing. There are other words, more salient and perhaps too honest, but infinitely more nuanced, than this all encompassing word.
Is it possible, instead, that a person is inexperienced? Unfamiliar? Out of practice? And why do we shame people for being any of these things? Am I, with a Bachelors in Technology and a Masters in Education, all knowing? Will I ever be susceptible to this poorly designed insult? If so, what’s the criteria? And if not, why should I be immune?
What’s the threshold for being stupid?
This term, too often used as a self-deprecating descriptor, has no place in our minds or in our mouths. You are not stupid. You might be silly, confused, scared, or anxious but you aren’t stupid. What you’ve done is uncovered an area in which you are ignorant and you have the choice to further educate yourself or not. That choice is a conscious one, and requires you to use your brain to weigh the pros and cons associated with each. That takes intelligence. By definition alone, one cannot be both intelligent and stupid.
So stop saying. Stop thinking it. Stop meaning it.
There are so many better, more meaningful words that don’t carry the shame, and the stigma, and the obstacles. There are words that mean what you want them to, that can empower you to pursue knowledge, and that encourage others to do the same.
There’s no shame in not knowing.
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