We must stop suffering fools

An old adage says we should “gladly suffer fools.” The opposing view is that we should “stop doing stupid.” Either way, the key concern is the direct impact that not confronting stupid or shortsighted actions has on morale and the long-term effectiveness of any decision-making/leadership process.

Whether it is managing people, business processes, visionary leadership or important innovation efforts, the need to mitigate stupid, wasteful directives, interjections and interruptions has become an essential requirement if we are to grow socially and economically.

A primary reason we as a species have been so successful is our ability to take advantage of acquired knowledge in making decisions and solving problems. These abilities also allow us to aggressively protect ourselves from the varied and changing environments we choose to live in, amidst the diverse personalities that we are expected to live and work with.

In other words, we have the ability to successfully teach, mentor, lead and manage as required to precipitate the next great something. This becomes a clear necessity in staying ahead of the problems that prior generations created in solving even earlier problems. It also seems to be a primary characteristic for any advancing technological society, where the notion of simply stepping off the progress merry-go-round in favor of “an earlier, simpler time” will lead only to frustration and a train to Emerald City.

And yet many seem to have an apparently endless willingness to allow, or at least tolerate, acts of stupidity. This is certainly not a new problem. Each generation has had to deal with the few, but noisy and persistent, actors who make life and progress just a little harder to navigate. But unlike in the past, when we may have had the luxury to argue trivial points ad nauseam with little consequence, the accelerating rate of our social and technological development means we can no longer tolerate these delays.

Consider how our society often indulges foolishness by individuals or groups acting out of ignorance or petulance. These people expect to continue getting away with their interference, obstruction, stupidity and obnoxious behavior because they think they are entitled, above reproach or simply smarter than the rest of society, or they have ensconced themselves high up in the hierarchical or governmental pecking order.

Many people who fit this description actually begin as foolish, but appeal to the mercy of their associates or subordinates, learn what is needed, and use the group’s combined skill set to move the process forward. This preferred path eventually removes the party from the “stupid group.” (Your own past experiences can judge what percentage of the population chooses this option.)

Others, however, ignore reality and micro-manage whatever capabilities, skill sets and authorities they have been given or assigned – and often request more time and resources to advance their beliefs, agendas and ignorance. Ultimately, if they fail to accomplish their goals, they find ways to blame everything and everyone around them for their failure. If they plead their case well enough, they may even be rewarded with a promotion and even greater responsibilities that they can’t or won’t handle in the future.

This latter situation is clearly too prevalent in our society at all levels of corporate America, and, of course, within the government: local, state and federal. It is also prevalent in our social programs and the very activities we subject ourselves and our children to. In many of these cases, people get fed up and walk out, while others feel compelled by societal, employment and governance rules and expectations to put up with it all.

It is clear to a growing number of us that we as a society have sat too long letting people who have perfected the art of stupid continue to add ever increasing levels of nonsense to our already busy lives, through accident, oversight, ignorance, laziness, personal gain, or just plain self-entitlement.

Letting “stupid” continue, with no relief or recourse, is affecting our home, social and work environment, our creative and innovative talents, and the governance we expect and subject ourselves to.

We shouldn’t have a problem with ignorant people who are willing to learn and to do the best they can. The problem is with those who are unwilling to learn, or to develop new skill sets but still expect to be allowed by silent assent to do as they please. Even worse are the growing numbers of people who expect to succeed by virtue of their imperious demands and loud, obnoxious, even threatening behavior.

Non-reaction on our part has perpetuated growing levels of such behavior on their part, and an increasing degree of hopelessness and complacency on the part of decent, reasonable people. That has an additional downside.

Failure to respond and act in response to stupid or bad behavior breeds greater incompetence, as equally or more incompetent people are recruited at all management and leadership levels, to ensure that “stupid” isn’t exposed or jeopardized. More importantly, we also get a lowered performance bar, reducing or even removing challenges and the need for excellence. This result makes us all stupid.

Clearly, stupid has been around since little Jimmy decided to poke the sleeping bear with a stick.

I do believe, though, that we as a population have increasingly (and incorrectly) decided that it is just plain easier to let things continue as they are. We have become a nation of people who are too busy to get involved; too indoctrinated into believing the current state of affairs was mandated on high; or too intimidated by loud, menacing street mobs to question their wisdom or asserted “will of the people.”

These will eventually become more opportunities for well-deserved Darwin Awards to weed out the worst practitioners of stupid (or worse) behavior.

I don’t believe today’s “middle America” had any real input into the present situation, though it may be complicit through its silence. But I get an uneasy feeling that what is being pontificated, decided and decreed is being listened to and accepted by too many people who are either clueless, apathetic or feeling obligated by self-imposed, job-related or socially pressured expectations to just sit there and take it.

I also believe a growing percentage of those same folks simply don’t notice or acknowledge what they read or hear about, or even witness with their own eyes. So why do we continue down this path?

I don’t have an answer. Maybe we just need a few people with the courage and presence of mind to speak out, step forward and refuse to take it anymore. It may require a groundswell from the general population to get noticed. But that is unlikely to happen without a few brave people taking a stand.

All I know is, a lot of individuals in this world are still plugged-in and aware enough to know things are not right, or not right enough.

We all see and call things wrong at times, or frequently. However, if we haven’t made a few mistakes, we probably haven’t done anything good either, or we are still in bed with the covers pulled over our heads.

Making well-reasoned decisions – and standing up to bullies, oppression and intolerance – are hallmarks of our nation’s success story. Our continued success, and even survival, depends on this continuing. It seems to me it’s time for each one of us to identify and challenge a small piece of the human foolishness around us, and work to improve the situation, by demanding that the perpetrators “Stop Doing Stupid!”

James E. Smith is a retired university professor of engineering and current Member Manager for Plasma Igniter, LLC.

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About the Author: CFACT Ed