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Throughout my earlier years, I was frequently accused of not suffering fools very well. I was clearly guilty as charged, then, and the increasing years haven’t improved the situation or my disposition any. The story though, at least for me, is not as simple as the three words of the title or the better-known suffering of fools. In fact, my apparent affliction goes much deeper than an old adage, although there is often a lot of merit to old sayings since they usually develop from a multitude of predictably annoying occurrences. It seems to stem more from my early up-bringing, where doing something stupid could result in a life-altering event, such as shortening your existence on this planet. Weren’t those the days?

While this inability to simply stay quiet might be chalked up to an aberrant chromosome, it turns out that of all of my annoying habits this one may have some saving social value. It is clear at least to me that we as a society have sat too long letting people, who have perfected the art of acting stupid, continue to add ever increasing levels of crap to our already busy existences, either through accident, oversight, ignorance, laziness or just plain self-entitlement. Actually, the particular reason has little importance. The reality is that foolishness has to be fought at every turn or it will, as it has, start to dominate our lives.

To be fair a few definitions and explanations are in order. Note that I didn’t say justifications, since I cannot rationally explain my total failure to get past a clearly foolish or stupid comment, or action, even when I am a willing participant or the originator of the same. For me the rolling of the eyes, the loss of attention or a change of subject is just never enough. These violations of the common sense mandate must be dealt with immediately and handled abruptly since Mother Nature or the Darwin Edict is often hit or miss, or it is too slow to weed out the truly stupid participants.


This slowness in the reaction of Mother Nature to cure our foolishness of course is very fortunate for a lot of us since like most I often frequent the stage for stupid comments and actions. We all do things that cause us a moment of pause. It is part of who we are and clearly a part of the human condition. For most cases it is not the act so much as it is our failure to identify and to seek a remedy, and to take heed for the future, that causes us all the cascading problems.

We all do foolish and stupid things, probably more often than we would like to admit, or even want to know. Fortunately the Universe, Mother Nature, luck, or some divine and gracious intelligence simply chooses to let it pass. Not taking that second look at the stop light or not looking where you are stepping has caught us all and for some it has resulted in painful lessons learned: a trip to the hospital, or possibly the morgue or, more often than not, simply nothing at all. Interestingly this seems to be how the human process works and since we seem to somehow survive our actions, or in-actions, maybe I shouldn’t be quite so critical, or should I?

Most of the stupid or foolish actions that we individually make, no matter the outcome, usually affect only the direct participants or, at most, a predictable few. If you run that red light or knock that cup of hot coffee over onto your colleague’s lap, the end result will most likely be confined to a few people, plus the local environment around you.


The reason I get down on myself when I let something of my doing slip through the cracks is not just the concerns that I might have caused bodily injury or property damage, although that would be sufficient, my real concern is that I have yet again not been present of mind for even the simple things of life. Imagine the impact if those same actions affected communities, counties or, for that matter, the globe.

Not that many decades ago we had a US President speak to us about a kinder and gentler society for America. I don’t believe that saying was the start of the current situation, since clearly stupid has been around since little Jimmy decided to poke the sleeping bear. I do believe though that we as a population have decided that it is just plain easier to let things continue as they are.

This of course would be in contrast to stepping up and announcing that something is just plain stupid, or being handled by some fool that is overdue for a Darwin strike. Kinder and gentler seems to have become confused with stupid and foolish. We have become a nation of busy people who believe that the way things are was mandated on high, plus, who are we as individuals to question the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the masses.


I don’t believe the current masses had any real input into the current situation although they are contributory through their silence. Everywhere I go and in most everything I read and hear as formal pronouncements I get this uneasy feeling that what is being pontificated is being listened to by people who are either clueless, uncaring or feel obligated by self-imposed, or job and socially related, expectations to sit there and take it. I also believe there are a growing percentage of those participants that do not believe or accept what they see, listen to, or read. The question then is why don’t they speak up and do what I do and just say "THIS IS STUPID!"

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this question and in everything I hold sacred I wish I had at least a glimmer. Maybe what is needed is for just those few to continue to step-up their pronouncements. Possibly it will require a ground swell to get noticed. All I know is we have a lot of individuals in this world who are still plugged-in enough to know when things are not right, or not right enough.

Yes, I know we all, especially me, will see and call it wrong every once in a while. I didn’t say I don’t make mistakes. The reality is that if we haven’t made a few mistakes today we probably haven’t done anything good either, or we are still in bed with the covers pulled over our head. Isn’t it time for each of you to identify a small piece of our human foolishness so you can improve the same? Until nature takes notice, I believe we need to become its voice for reason.

James Smith is professor and director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications at West Virginia University.