Tuesday, March 11, 2014

on being stupid

 Someone recently took me to task for an old post that somehow trickled up again into her interwebs:
I clicked on this link from a FB post this morning. As a mother of 4 girls, I enjoy reading other mother’s insights about raising daughters. However I was immediately put off by the contempt in the tone “And I am a little worn, a little weary lately, watching some stupid mothers and others hating on the beautiful young teenage women they have under their care.” Not every mother has it all together all the time and they are not necessarily hateful or stupid. One of the best lessons we can teach our daughters is to uplift one another rather than tear each other down with judgement and name calling.
Can I talk about the things I hate?

I hate feeling sorry for something I don't feel sorry for saying.

I hate the idea that we have to have it all together all the time just to avoid doing really egregious kinds of damage to each other.  Sorry, I rammed my truck into your garage door and chased your chickens around the back yard until they dropped dead, I was just really having a bad day.

I hate that a perfectly useful word ("stupid") has been tabooed.  Some things are just stupid.  Leaving your hoe on the ground so that you bean yourself when you tread on the blade?  Stupid.  Spitting into the wind?  Stupid.  Telling our daughters or sons in public (or in private, for that matter) that they're slutty, hopeless, an embarrassment, a mistake?  That's pretty stupid. Because it doesn't work.  Because it makes them more that way.  Because it makes you look even worse to the people witnessing.  Because it's lazy parenting.  Because it causes more damage than good.  Because it's just stupid.

But then I have to ask myself, just how stupid?  As stupid as calling other parents stupid? especially when you're hoping to convince them to change?

I hate how I keep trying to talk myself around to accommodate this responder.  Because obviously something touched a nerve for her.  Did she feel I was calling her stupid and hateful? Because maybe she has said and done some of those hateful things?  Because in my own hearing parents have said and done things that I think a broad committee of citizens would even today be able to agree are hateful words and hateful actions.  Because I myself --?

Well, haven't I?  Have I ever spoken with contempt to a child in my care?  Have I rolled my eyes?  Have I broken my own advice?  Yes, I have.

And it was stupid to have done it.
I don't say it with contempt, but in painful recognition.
It was really stupid.

And if I'm an adult, I should be able to read stupid as stop.

As in, if I don't want to be stupid anymore, I'm going to have to just stop spitting and I'm going to have to start putting the hoe away where it belongs.  Because as adults, we can recognize stupidity in ourselves and separate ourselves from it.  Separate it out of our ongoing actions. 

I admit this response has bugged me. And I keep catching myself stewing over it.  Is it because I hate being accused of name-calling?  I do hate that.  Maybe I hate that accusation because it's true and so it stings.  I do want to name things.  I want to call things for what they are.  I want to know the real names of things.  I know in my home I correct children who call themselves "stupid."  I make them re-say it as "still learning."  I tell them it's a truer name.

So would it have been better if I'd said, "those still-learning parents who are saying and doing really unpleasant and damaging things to their children"?  Maybe that would have been more compassionate.  For the parents.  And parents need compassion (for example, must we really "wholeheartedly blame the mother" of the Sandy Hook killer?  Why is it always the mother we wholeheartedly blame?  I hate that.)

But would "still- learning" instead of "stupid" have been more effective? more accurate? or just nicer?  Or just more words and boring ones at that?

Because I still hate this thing we keep trying to do to language, trying to take all the crunch out of everything we say.  The smoothieification of language.  Like the way we've started slipping kale into the blender with a banana and some orange juice, instead of just learning to eat kale like grown-ups with a little vinegar and bacon fat and pepper to boot.

Maybe that's the root of what I hate -- that we're turning into a whole society of children who don't know how to get past yelling ugly names at each other from one side of the playground to the other, that we're stuck on the island with the Lord of the Flies and no adults to take responsibility any more, no grown-ups to say, "That was stupid of me.  I'm sorry.  Here, let's try it again.  Because I'm certainly still learning."


Susan said...

Amen. And Amen.

Fresca said...

Good post!
Good tangled human stuff.

Just yesterday in an unusually foul mood, I--a fairly intelligent person-- called my dear young person (not my child, but something like it) "worthless."

I meant --and the context supplied the meaning--worthless *at doing the laundry*,
but in truth, if I hadn't been in such a horrible mood (due to something and someone else entirely), I would NEVER have said that, truncated or not, and I hated that I did.

I immediately apologized, and the dear young person laughed at me for being silly: thank heavens she knew very well I didn't mean it. (Well, about the laundry, maybe I did...)

Anyway, my point is, I wonder if you meant "acting" stupid, not "being" stupid, i.e. the ACTIONS not the PEOPLE were stupid?
and if you might want to change "stupid" in your original sentence from an adjective to an adverb--
"some [] mothers and other *stupidly* hating..."?

I mean, perfectly intelligent people can be hateful, damaging, stupid (counterproductive) parents, and stupid people can be kind, loving parents.

I bet you're right, though, that the Commenter really felt you meant someone like her--someone who has probably acted stupidly toward her kids in public--because you were not specific about what you found wearying.
Your example here--calling your kid a worthless slut--clears that up.

"Still-learning" is, pardon me, worthless, because it is not true.
Some people, perfectly smart people, are NOT learning to be better at loving or any other emotional act.

On a happier note... kale with vinegar and bacon?
I've been making kale with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.

Lisa B. said...

I remember that post and remember loving it--so sharp and excellent.

I agree with your commenter above--all of it. I think you're right--adults have to own up, and own up quick, to their own misjudged, wrongful, mean, destructive behavior. Calling the *behavior* stupid is not out of line. I (try to) think about whatever is behind that bad parental behavior--what pain, what damage, what history of destructive behavior perpetrated upon the parent-as-a-child that (maybe) adds up to this visiting a new version of the same upon their own children. And I (try to) imagine that maybe it's just a terrible, bad, no good day for that adult.

Even so. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

(If it's of any consolation, I would be visiting and revisiting the whole things obsessively myself. I would probably NEVER be able to set it aside.)

Emma J said...

Lisa B - why do we do that? Do we think we're ever really going to figure ourselves out? And then what will we do for fun?

Fresca- I love your edit. Yes, it should be *stupidly hating* -- and like Lisa I utterly agree with your points : IQ is no marker either way for nurturance. And may I just say how glad I am your daughterish young person has found safe harbor with you. Hooray for adults who know how to apologize (and who still require laundry skillz of their dear young persons)!

Susan - thanks! ♡

Mac said...

Yes. I completely agree--I hate (yes I said hate) people getting all worked up these days... the "taking [of the] crunch out of language." I'll keep it crunchy with you, or at least allow you to express how you feel without getting automatically defensive at a "trigger" word.

And no, there are not only people who do stupid things, there really are stupid people. And that's not measured by IQ. My parents used to always say, "People are stupid." That's a bit of real wisdom right there. We all can be stupid at times, but some people are really stupid. I can verify from my work at the PD, that definitely applies to the realm of parenting.

Thanks for defending yourself, and not apologizing.

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