We grow into stupid. Over the years, doing what I do for a living, this is the theory I’ve developed. I don’t have extensive studies to back it up, no expert testimony, just a lot of experience.
Look at how we start out in life. As babies, we’re alert, open-minded input junkies who aren’t afraid to shove things up our noses or into our mouths in the pursuit of truth. We grow into toddlers and preschoolers who are merciless in our ability to question, and fearless in our desire to explore and experiment. I’m not sure precisely when stupidity happens. Maybe it creeps in little by little, as we’re pedaling our bikes, doing our homework and gorging on mac and cheese. Perhaps it comes later, rears its ugly head as we hit puberty. At some point on our journey from little to big, we lose our smarts.
I’m not talking about raw ability or intelligence. Both as children and as adults, each of us is blessed and cursed with our own strengths and weaknesses, some of which we nourish and develop, and some of which we choose to let sit. What I’m talking is more in line with the “stupid is as stupid does” school of thought. The brand of stupidity to which I’m referring involves asinine assumptions, irrational hang-ups, and general dumbness. I don’t see a lot of it in kids. They put buckets on their heads and run into walls, and they think peanut butter is haute cuisine, but they still manage to avoid a lot of these pitfalls into stupidity. When it comes to big people (the ones we let drive cars and have credit cards), stupid is there in spades.
Case in point: racism. Ever met a little person who even really noticed race? Dennis Leary says it best: “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.” Needless to say, “the list” gets longer as we get older, and a precious few big people make the effort necessary to scratch things off of it. Stupid.
Next case in point: Sexism. According to Freud, we don’t even see male/female distinctions until we’re somewhere between three and five. Left unpolluted, little girls feel perfectly at home parked in a mud puddle and little boys feel confident playing with dollies. However, by the time we’re big, we’re walking, talking billboards for outdated male/female sterotypes. Stupid.
The list goes on and on. Homophobia? Stupid, and pretty much unheard of with wee folk. Ablism? Stupid, and also generally not an issue for little kids. Classism? Stupid, and munchkins don’t even really get the notion of class. Self-doubt and self-loathing (possibly the biggest and baddest of grown up brands of stupidity, and the wellspring of these other forms of stupidity)? Really, really not part of a child’s portfolio.
The great irony in all of this is the way we dote on children as if they’re cute little idiots. What’s more, we sneer and cringe at adolescents, bemoaning their lack of judgement and values, right at the time of their life when they’re beginning to act like grown ups. The only good thing about being a grown up is that we at least have the ability to recognize our stupidity and do something about it.
Wishing you were little again, and far less stupid? Me too.
“I am not young enough to know everything.” Oscar Wilde