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June 6, 2013
The Secret Life of Molly
You Can't Fix Stupid
by Hannah Bird

A few weeks ago Skye asked me to write about dealing with stupid people. Skye is my best friend’s daughter. She is also my daughter’s best friend. I have a firm policy that Skye and her younger sister (who is also my younger daughter’s best friend) should always get everything they want. But still this topic is hard for me.

For many years, I had a magnet on my fridge that said “You can’t fix stupid.” I thought it was hilarious. I have my share of idiot stories. I have argued with people over whether or not Twilight ripped off Harry Potter. I have tried to debunk the notion that jumping will save you in a falling elevator. I have argued (quite correctly, mind you) that Huns were not from Africa, Julius Caesar was not a Renaissance figure and that Bible does not say, “God helps those that help themselves.”

I have tried to explain the downside to printing money and playing the lottery. I have tried very hard to persuade people to stop perpetuating faith-promoting rumors. I have vehemently debated whether “The Civil War” and the War of 1812 are the same thing. No. No they are not.

So you can see that I am obviously well versed in stupid. Some days I feel positively marinated in it. Shatter something on camera and it doesn’t matter whether it is a bone, your dignity, or the last taboo — you will be famous. More people choose the winners of reality show contests than their elected representatives.

Reality TV is a real thing and not just an unfunny joke made up by late night comedians. Also, the late night comedians are unfunny. Most adult citizens of the US cannot pass the citizenship test we give immigrants.  People are hard pressed to locate their state on a map. If you ask a random person to locate a country in the Middle East, he will most likely give the globe a spin and hope to land lucky.

The stupid. It burns.

Last summer when my mom was visiting, she asked if she could have something from my house. My mom is the most supportive, uncritical, loving person that I know. She is so great that my husband gets excited when she comes to visit. So do my friends. Obviously, she can have anything in my house.

She asked for my “You can’t fix stupid” magnet. Then she asked my family to quit saying “stupid.”

We are trying. It is harder than it sounds. This was an election year, for one thing.  But the more I have tried not to use that word, the more I have thought about how I use it. Little by little, a bit of guilt has crept in. I was committing one of my least favorite errors. I had taken a blessing and turned it into a virtue of my own making.

I was born to college-educated parents. Their parents were educated too. I was raised in a home full of books and talk about books. My mother was on the debate team and I followed suit. We went to the library all the time. We got a newspaper.

My parents talked about ideas at the table. My mother made curry for dinner. In Utah. In the 1970’s. People from Laos lived in the basement. The world was big and wide. Ideas were important. Words were powerful. When the engine in our Volkswagen died, my mom got a book from the library and rebuilt it in the carport.

My parents read to us and in front of us. My mom got her PhD with seven kids in the house. Interesting people came to dinner. My mom’s friend from India brought couscous to Thanksgiving. My mom had Buddhist monks come to our house to teach meditation. My brother and grandmother discussed Wallace Stegner.

This has been the first part of learning to deal with less than brilliant thinking. I finally have a little compassion. When I am faced with someone who is struggling with who and whom, I assume that their mother did not read The Hobbit and Narnia to them.

When I meet someone who does not understand the long term effects of quantitative easing, I am grateful that I had parents who took me to the library and showed me how to study new things so that when I was a mom I could develop a sudden passion for economics. And when someone thinks that “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is in the US Constitution, I try to grind my teeth more quietly.

It would be terrifying to live in a world I understood so little about. I am grateful to have been spared that struggle.

But the biggest reason that I don’t worry about stupidity so much anymore is Skye and all the kids like her. She is wry and funny and smart. She is lovely and direct. A world with her in it cannot be in that much trouble.

I watch my kids argue about which fallacy I just committed and I am happy that they will teach their kids critical thinking. I watch my gorgeous niece head off to Tufts University to study international relations. She is already fluent in Mandarin and has lived in China. Someone needs to work out US and China’s relationship. I am glad she is on the job.

So I will see you a reality star with a sex tape and raise you one ballerina with an incredible work ethic, really ugly feet and the ability the sail through the air while still caring about pointing her toes. You point out reality TV and I will show you my niece Ella who wrote a whole series about wolves in middle school.  You can complain about kids these days, and I will show you my nephews Nick and Matt who have patiently danced in their mother’s ballet school all these years as a kindness to her. Nick just finished a turn as Aladdin and did an amazing job. You can complain about people not knowing geography and I will remember my friends’ daughter Alie wending her way through a street market in Bhutan at 16.

It turns out that I was wrong. You can fix stupid. We just each have to fix our own.

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