We all do stupid things.
One year, I left the water running in the sink and flooded my bathroom. That was stupid. I know better but I let myself get distracted. As a teacher I was regularly cautioned to never use the word ‘stupid’. But to be honest with you, we teachers regularly see behaviors (and policies) that can only be described as stupid. Some examples of stupidity we can fix. But there is one form of stupidity that we can’t fix; it is deadly and we need to be able to recognize it to protect our children. Now, before you get angry, let me do a little clarifying of terms. This is important because at the time of this writing (early 2015) there is a measles outbreak sweeping the nation and the word stupid is being used with abandon.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines stupid as: “lacking intelligence or common sense.”
Those two phrases aren’t detailed enough for me and so I offer my own three part analysis. When I hear students call each other ‘stupid’ they usually mean one of three things:
1) a lack of knowledge (ignorance, you were never taught) – that can be fixed;
2) a lack of cognitive ability (your brain can’t make sense out of what’s going on) – that can be accommodated;
3) or a lack of common sense (a lifestyle of unwise choices) – this can rarely be fixed. The first two should not be called stupid but the third one is stupid and deadly and we need to be able to identify them all for the protection of our children. I’ll write about each in a separate post. To begin, let’s just talk about ignorance.
Ignorance is just a lack of information.
You weren’t taught. Ignorance is only deadly (stupid) in life and death situations – big ocean waves, icy roads, wild animals etc., where the wise person seeks out expert advice before proceeding – the rest of the time ignorance is merely inconvenient and/or embarrassing.
I don’t speak Chinese (or read Japanese subtitles).
So when I watch Chinese dramas on TV, I have no idea what’s going on. I’m ignorant. I haven’t been taught. Inconvenient from an entertainment standpoint but not embarrassing or deadly. But that is obvious. What about cultural ignorance within a supposedly common language, particularly in regards to humor, like when a kid might say, “You don’t get that joke? Man, you’re stupid!”?
I don’t speak New Zealand.
I was in New Zealand sitting around the dinner table chatting with friends when a woman told a story of how her neighborhood had been living in terror because they thought they were being stalked by a sexual predator. Then they found out that, “… a neighborhood dog was running through the backyards floggin’ the knickers!” Everybody at the table burst into laughter but me. I speak English but what the hell are you talking about? It turns out that in certain Commonwealth (British) countries, among other meanings, ‘flogging’ can also mean stealing. And to those of British ancestry, ‘knickers’ can mean a woman’s panties. The dog was stealing women’s panties off of local clothes lines! OH! Now I get it. I was ignorant and my ignorance was easily fixed with education. Fortunately my friends had the good manners to not call me stupid. But what about a more vulgar and public faux pas due to cultural ignorance?
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
Brits and Americans have wildly different and confusing vulgarities (slang) for a woman’s genitals. If a Brit talks about a pussy he usually means a cat. If an eighth grade boy from your middle school talks about a pussy he usually means something else (and if you have to ask what he means, you shouldn’t be reading this!). If an American uses the word ‘fanny’ he usually means a person’s buttocks. To a Brit, ‘fanny’ is vulgar slang for a woman’s genitals. What a difference! How might this cause embarrassment?
What would happen if a middle school teacher decided to do a lesson comparing the cat themed nonsense poetry of British author Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy-Cat with that of American author Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat?
I love Lear’s poem. It appeals to the romantic in me. I especially like the lines:
“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,”
But what American middle school teacher in their right mind would recite a poem (remember it was written by a 19th century Brit) which has the lines:
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Wow! Nobody ever called The Cat in the Hat a pussy!
It gets worse! This really happened.
Picture an international swim meet held in a large natatorium in New Zealand. Teams and spectators from all over the Commonwealth and the Pacific Rim are there. The American women’s dive team is warming up taking practice dives. Their American coach is shouting suggestions from the side of the pool and everyone can hear him. Imagine the embarrassment and confusion of the Commonwealth participants when they hear the American women’s diving coach repeatedly shouting, “Squeeze your fanny! Squeeze your fanny!”
Don’t call it stupid. Call it ignorance; and we can fix most ignorance. It just takes time and patience. But remember, there is a type of stupid that we can’t fix and the key to our survival is knowing what it is. More to follow…