How to Stop Being an Idiot

I listened half-heartedly to the President’s State of the Union Address earlier this week, with one eye on the TV and the other on my phone, thumbing through Facebook posts. I don’t watch television very often like this, usually preferring to keep my attention from being too easily diverted. It is common for younger folks to multi-task but I tend to prefer being singularly-focused. Besides, I wasn’t expecting any earth shattering revelations from the President and was confident he could handle this one without my coaching.

The speech was less than five minutes old when one of my Facebook friends (I was actually in the same room with this guy several years ago so he’s not just someone I latched on to in order to increase my friends list) posted these words – “This guy is so far out of reality, it isn’t funny. I’m still stunned that we elected him,” in reference to the speech. Assuming I must have missed something I quickly posted this comment – “What has he said so far that causes you concern?” The next comment was his reply to my question – “Just about everything. His assumptions are all wrong.”

My next question sought some specifics. I really was curious what the President had said that I might have missed. Remember, I was not singularly-focused at the time. All I had heard up to that point were some greetings, compliments, and hopes for our country we all should agree on. Nothing had been said about policy or positions.idiot

Let me say at this point that I’m not as dumb as I might look or sound some times. I know where this guy is coming from politically. The reason I responded to his post was not to have him clarify something for me. My real hope was to nudge him toward the possibility of actually thinking about something rather than simply reacting without thought. This encounter was a prime example of how we have lost the ability to think and reason.

Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and other social media tools have either destroyed our ability to be rational or perhaps simply revealed our irrationality. It’s the chicken and egg question – which came first? Where we all idiots before social media or did social media make us idiots?

Perhaps you’ve seen this one recently. Two pictures side by side, one of Whitney Houston and the other of the former Army sniper who was killed last week by a friend. The soldier is shown posed with his rifle used to protect our country and the singer appears to be in some kind of drug induced frenzy. The caption suggests the President did nothing to honor the soldier but ordered flags to fly at half mast when the drunken singer died. The obvious implication – well, it’s so obvious you don’t need me to identify it for you!

It took about 30 seconds of research to discover the “facts” of this posting were totally wrong. However, it required no time to use my brain to determine this is probably not true and I don’t need to hit the “Like” button. If the President REALLY does endorse drug use and hates American soldiers then I will certainly click the “Like” button to suggest we need a change.

I’m not talking about articles and photographs that support a particular position, but about stuff that is so blatantly false that we just need to stop and ask, “Does that make any sense?” We keep passing stuff around and it soon takes a life of its own. Perhaps we need to tweak the old saying that “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” and now say, “If it sounds too ridiculous to be true it probably is.”

This is especially true in the political arena (and to some extent in the religious world). Let’s go back to my friend who was trying to listen to the State of the Union Address. He doesn’t like the President’s political positions and you don’t need to read many of his Facebook posts in order to realize it. I get that and I think it’s great that he cares enough to pay attention. By the way, this type of absurdity is not the sole possession of one particular political party. I have an interesting list of Facebook Friends, divided fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats, but we all share the same unwillingness to think some times.

Our minds become so hardened to our position that we refuse to agree, even when we want the same thing. There are some things that ninety percent of us will agree about politically even though 52% voted one way and 48% voted the other. My friend could have added to the dialogue by simply waiting for the President to say something disagreeable. Instead, he chose to simply be argumentative about everything – even the things he would find agreeable.

These are some things most of us will agree about, although how they are accomplished is a different matter, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to be agreeable about something?

  • We want the government to be accountable to do its job and less wasteful in the process.
  • We want an economy that is healthy and growing.
  • We like the idea of a social safety net that helps people who need it (poor, elderly, disabled, etc.)
  • We want a military that keeps us safe.
  • We want police to keep us safe.
  • We want every kid to have the opportunity of education.
  • We want private companies to be responsible and pay decent wages.
  • We think most of our neighbors are decent human beings and we don’t have any interest in regulating their religion, their sex lives, or their personal choices.

I certainly didn’t follow it this closely, but probably 75% of the President’s speech consisted of saying nothing more than things like these, things we could all support. However, everyone is afraid to say an “amen” about things they agree with out of fear it is a sign of weakness. It is the basic attitude that “if you are wrong about one thing then you must be wrong about everything.”

Our nation appears to be extremely divided when I’m not sure we really are. If we can only learn to begin our conversations with areas of agreement and then be willing to openly discuss areas of disagreement, we might discover an ability to resolve a lot of these issues.

Let me provide an example concerning a very volatile issue – gun control. There are many areas of agreement for the vast majority of Americans. These include:

  • We want our lives to be safer from gun violence.
  • We want the right to own guns for hunting, protection, and sports.
  • We want to keep guns out of the hands of people who are potentially dangerous.
  • We understand that some type of regulation is necessary.
  • We want those who own guns to be responsible and trained.

It is hard to imagine any reasonable person would disagree with any of these statements (notice I said “reasonable”). However, we are so unwilling to admit that we agree about these things that we can’t even begin a discussion. Our elected officials can’t seem to find enough agreement to even have a vote on anything.

Take for example the statement “we understand that some type of regulation is necessary.” As soon as you make that statement, people scatter to gather in their preferred camp. But the truth is we all agree with the statement. I don’t know of anyone who wants every person, crazy or sane, to be heavily armed.

An essential quality that a society needs in order to survive is the ability to find common agreement. If not, we are left with the barbaric concept of allowing the strongest to rule. Regulating guns does not mean we must confiscate every gun and trample constitutional rights. We are smart enough to figure out ways to do a better job of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. However, it will not happen as long as we continue to make idiotic comments and outlandish claims. People – we need to think!

If you examine every political issue you will discover that we have much more agreement than disagreement. Our divisions are not as wide as they seem because our agreements have been drowned out by our anger and fear. Before you click the “like” or “share” button on Facebook, just take a minute to think – “Am I being an idiot? In fact, as Christians, we have an even higher standard than truth. We are reminded that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).



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2 responses to “How to Stop Being an Idiot

  1. I wish THIS was the most Popular MEME on facebook!:

    Before you click the “like” or “share” button on Facebook, just take a minute to think – “Am I being an idiot? In fact, as Christians, we have an even higher standard than truth. We are reminded that “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

  2. Rick Peters

    Very well spoken Terry and spot on. Communication requires both listening and talking. Too many times, these days, we resort to the latter.

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