Stupid Is Not the Word for It

Sitting on the edge of my seat, staring at a throng of people busting out windows and pushing their way into the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., I was amazed at what I was seeing. Was this really a group of Americans storming the capital? The gravity of this took a few days to really sink in, if I’m honest.

Since that day, I have watched several news reports on the chaos. While I totally align with the outrage and bewilderment expressed, I have struggled with the negative comments about the “stupid” people who did this or that. Other words have been used, but this one seems to encapsulate the consensus. Seems all sides throw the same terminology at each other.

The truth is, “stupid” is simply not the word for it and I think we do ourselves as a nation great harm when we adopt any such simplistic and negative boxes for people.

To prove a point, I will tell you I hold several degrees, including bachelors of science in both physics and applied mathematics and master’s degrees in special education and counseling psychology. I have over twenty-five years of employment experience that includes working in innovative positions at the management level of world-class organizations in both the United States and Asia. I travel around the country teaching other therapists and I have written a book on neuroscience-informed care of anxiety. These accomplishments are indicative of the type of person I have always been. I don’t tell you this to sound big headed here, I simply wish to point out that no one who knows me would be likely to refer to me as stupid.

And yet…

At the time I was in the master’s program studying solid state physics at San Jose State back in the late nineties, I was also a member of a very oppressive, exclusive, and abusive cult — and furthermore, I believed hook, line, and sinker the irrational and distorted ideologies the group fed me. Some of the things I held as true back then stagger the imagination as I remember them now. Even decades out, I often think, “How could I have been so gullable? How could I have acted that way?”

The answer is that is how my faulty brain was wired and I was set up with experiences that fortified my beliefs and no one ever told me I had the right to challenge my own thoughts and experiences.

I have long since escaped that world and have dedicated my life to finding healing for myself and others. It has been my mission to go from survivor to thriver, and to understanding what happened to me so I can help others. In so doing, I have learned that I was not stupid. The truth is, I was programmed to act just as I did and I ran my life on automatic, with my brain and emotions in the driver’s seat.

I am not alone in this.

If you saw my companion article, “America in Conflict; When the Brain Runs the Show,” you read about some of the brain science that explains this. Now, I want to build on by connecting us to the human aspect of it all.

Let me start by saying, for the most part, our society often does not provide the safety needed to change our minds with any kind of grace. In this age of “information at your fingertips,” it is presumed that we are all well and rightly informed on just about any topic. To admit we are wrong or ignorant on a matter is akin to social suicide at times. This is important because, as mentioned in the other article, we will adopt all manner of falsehoods and “legal fictions” (of a sort) to maintain a prized position in relation to others to whom we commonly relate. When we are cornered, traumatized, under-served, uncared for, or marginalized, that only makes it worse. The goal of our brain is no longer self-actualization at that point, but pure social survival — which, on many levels, is just as crucial as physical survival.

Therefore, I cringe when I hear the derogatory things that people say about each other — both sides — when none of this has anything to do with intelligence and everything to do with self-and-tribe preservation. I do believe there is ignorance, anger, and deceit involved on many levels. I am not saying people are never obstinate, uninformed, or even downright calculating and petty. What I am saying is that if we want to change this, hurling accusations at each other is not the way to do it.

I pointed out in my previous writing that it takes less than the blink of an eye (two-hundred thirteen milliseconds, to be precise) to judge a situation. The cure, then, lies in part in slowing down and becoming less reactive and less inciteful of others as all that demonstrates is our ability to be led by our biology rather than a healthy combination of our reason and our compassion. Before we throw someone else in the “wrong” box, we need to move ourselves from the seat of judge and jury to the better vantage point of curious investigator. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People teaches the ageless principle of, “First seek to understand, then to be understood.”

What if reporters, newscasters, or law enforcement asked more questions about why people behave as they do and fully understood the other side before they shared their own beliefs or cast any aspersions? What if, rather than accusing others of being stupid, we asked them what they hoped to gain from their actions? What if we learned what their pains and hopes were so that we could see any misteps or holes in their logic more clearly before presenting our own, often fallible suggestions? If we are willing to hear all and still believe our way to be better, what if we demonstrated that through quiet but consistent actions rather than accusations that do nothing but incite fear and anger — which, if not checked, take over our lives and run the show despite us? After all, if someone who holds a belief system different to our own is humiliated or harassed, all this will do is engage the danger alarms of their brain and make them defensive. Positive change is no longer possible in such a case.

I end these thoughts with a plea. Please, world, let’s stop for a minute. Let’s remember that we are all part of thesame family that is the human race. We all have dreams, goals, pains, and joys. Each individual possesses a valuable piece of the great puzzle that is this life. I challenge us all today to learn to spur each other on to love and good works rather than hate and dissention. In so doing, I think we might just find our way to peace.

Written by book author, blogger, & educational/motivational speaker, Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP. Founder and owner of Potential Finders Network, Hannah provides consultation, training, and personal development services. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. If you have topics you want to suggest, please don’t hesitate to contact her at and check out or to learn more.



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