Using the Right Words
“That’s just stupid.” “You’re so ignorant!”
I have seen an increase in what I consider a disturbing trend, and to be fair I fall prey to it myself – I have no moral high horse to sit on here. The trend is the equation of intelligence with moral character. More accurately… that intelligent people agree with me about the correct way for society to order our common life, and dumb/stupid/ignorant people do not.
Outside of a defensive, “I don’t do that,” or a knee jerk response of, “but they are stupid!,” the first response that I expect many people might have is to say, “why does that matter.” I’m simply venting my disagreement with the way they are thinking and acting by attaching to it a derogatory statement of their mental processing of life (in this, their intelligence). Well…. I think it matters because words matter. Our words shape our reality, they are framework through which we engage and respond to life.
And particularly, how we name a problem alters how we address its solution.
Many of the times we fail to fix societal ills it is because we incorrectly diagnose the problems. Misdiagnosis leads to bad treatment… EVERY TIME! You have to ask the right questions to get helpful answers. Words matter.
When we have a conflict of moral and ethical responses, when we have a conflict of world views… the cause has little (or nothing) to do with intelligence. We would all like to believe 1) that we are very intelligent and that 2) all intelligent people will thus come to the same conclusions as I do. But this just isn’t true. Intelligent people are capable of using that tool for good or ill. And people who are less intelligent are just as capable of transforming the world with great good. It is a particular skill (tool) which doesn’t determine how it will be used.
I had the opportunity recently to listen to a couple of people in state government speak about their faith as it applies to their work in government. They were all brilliant people. They did not agree with me… or even with each other. Similar faith claims… similar intellect and educational levels… vastly different views of how to get “good” results for the common welfare of all people. And this is before we even talk about folk who don’t even share “common good” as a goal. I know brilliant people who selfish and manipulative. There is nothing inherently good about intelligence… or even education. We are misnaming the problem! And in so far as we do that, we aren’t going to come up with any worthwhile solutions.
I consider myself an intelligent person. I have a pretty excellent education (which has as much to do with societal advantages and my parents as anything about my intelligence). And I prize both of those things… probably too much. But when I think of my kids, while I hope that for them as well, these are not my top priorities. More than anything else I wish to raise kids of strong moral fiber with a love of neighbor. That doesn’t come with an IQ rating… or get taught in a book. And if I think it does? I’m pretty likely to fail in my goal.
And if we want to seek consensus building and shared goals and tactics towards that goals, we won’t get there in demeaning others, imagining that only dumb people disagree with us, and that all intelligence is used for (my) good.
So maybe we can all agree to go beyond the playground insults. (And I do mean ALL because this seems to be a universal challenge on all sides of the equation.) And start taking a bit more care with our words… that we might take better care of each other.