Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Stupid or just foolish?

You'll often hear, "People are stupid," a statement with which I just do not agree. People are, generally, not stupid. People invented the internal combustion engine, the Internet, antibiotics, vaccinations...these are not the works of morons. When folks say that, I think they really mean, "People are foolish," a kettle of a different color.

Stupidity is an actual lack of intelligence. Stupid people learn slowly, process information clumsily, and show a general deficiency in terms of memory or knowledge. I have met very few genuinely stupid people in my life. Foolishness, however, has little to do with the way one learns, stores, and processes information. There are many well educated people with degrees in this and doctorates in that, who are indisputably intelligent, but who show an amazing lack of intuition and enlightenment, and who consistently make bad decisions. I have met many foolish people. I often think of it in AD&D terms: intelligence and wisdom.

Example: Two women approach a weatherbeaten rope-and-plank bridge over a deep chasm. One woman is all intelligence and no wisdom, and her companion is all wisdom and no intelligence. Ms. Intellignce draws upon what she knows of rope, wood, weather and physics, and calculates that there is an 80% chance the bridge will bear the women's weight. Therefore, she recommends crossing. Ms. Wisdom, who knows nothing about physics, looks at the deep gorge, considers what will happen if the bridge gives way, and weighs that against the importance of crossing. She recommends either finding another, safer, way across the chasm, or abandoning the trip altogether.

See the difference? Ms. Intelligence has an amazing ability to calculate the odds, relying on her mental prowess, but Ms. Wisdom keeps a long view of the situation, relying on perspective and common sense. Obviously, you can tell which I favor. Nearly anyone can be taught facts and theories, but it's harder to teach wisdom and good judgement. Given the state of the world, I suggest we should concentrate less on the former and more on the latter.

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