I was taking my sunrise walk this morning when a truck drove by with a bumper sticker that read “You can’t fix stupid.” This a primarily southern expression, popularized by comedian, Ron White. The phrase is printed on t-shirts, memes and, of course, bumper stickers. It is a get-out-of-jail-free card for those tasked with teaching someone not ready or willing to be taught. Like “boys will be boys.” It is an excuse for making Darwin award type mistakes.
No disrespect to Mr. White, he is a gifted comic. But I decided in that moment, that I must disagree with his trademark phrase. I believe you can fix stupid. Otherwise, why are we here? Why do we have schools and teachers, parents and mentors? Perhaps what we cannot do instead, is always get people to think the way we think. Of course, like most people, I am guilty of believing my thoughts and opinions are the correct ones, otherwise I would not have them, I would have the correct ones.
We have all been stupid at some point in our lives. As babies, we touch the hot stove, pull the dog’s tail, put dirt in our mouths. We learn from these behaviors and stupidity dies. Granted, it dies more slowly for some.
That is not to say the consequences of being stupid are not real, or that those consequences can always be fixed. I have made some tragic mistakes due to stupidity, the penalties of some I will live with forever.
I am pretty good with money, now. But when I was younger, oh brother! In my youth, I was taught that money was important and could fix everything. However, I was not instructed on how to manage it. I went into adulthood without knowing the basic rules of compound interest or the importance of paying myself first. I was not taught to buy with cash when I could, and save when I could not. I have been, in the words of Mr. White’s friend, Jeff Foxworthy, “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese broke.” Hell, I have been “generic 38 cents per box macaroni and cheese broke.” Kraft was often a luxury. Being broke is not fun. When money was that tight, all I wanted in the world was for it not to be that tight. Then, when things loosened up a bit, my first response was to reward myself with spending. Annnnnd now we’re back to being money being tight.
I got my spending under control myself, but I was married to a man who had no control in any aspect of his life. He was a serial addict. Spending and eating were his two biggest addictions, and since both were legal there was not much I could do about either. Although I was in control of me, I was still stupid. Stupid for not keeping my money separate, “because that’s not what married people do.” Stupid for not watching the family finances and making sure things did not go too far, because it was so tiring, frustrating and caused more fights. I was stupid for feeling guilty each time he said, “If you only believed in me I would do better.” I was stupid for waiting until it was too late to do anything, after the retirement account was emptied without my knowledge, the mortgage was a month late and his car was in danger of being repossessed. I was stupid for not leaving because I was too proud to prove his accusation, “you are a quitter.” I was stupid for not recognizing narcissism when it was living in my house. I was stupid for believing his lie that I was stupid.
Then, fortunately, one day he literally beat the stupid right out of me. I am cured.
This is not to say that the effects of stupid go away with the stupid. I have scars on my body, I no longer have my high school class ring, I paid too much on car insurance and interest rates, there are people I avoid seeing, and I have so many shame triggers, all because of stupid behaviors. I cannot fix the scars. I will never see my class ring again. But my insurance premiums go down every year due to a combination of my age and more cautious driving. Making wiser decisions has dramatically cut down on the number of people I have to avoid. While my past shame triggers are still there, I am not collecting new ones.
I have learned my lessons. However, the long-term consequence remains. Unless I come into a large inheritance (not much chance of that), win the lottery (extremely bad odds) or write a New York Times Best Seller (I am working on it), traditional retirement at age 65 does not seem likely. I met with a financial planner recently and she agreed that I will likely need to work, in some capacity, until Jesus returns, maybe even longer. I have never been so stupid as to mess up my relationships with my children. They adore me, which is a very good thing; as I may have to live in one of their basements one day. I was stupid once, but I fixed it. I do not have to accept things the way they are, entirely. It will just take more work now than it would have had I stopped being stupid sooner.
When literary hero, Forrest Gump was called “stupid,” he responded with something his mother told him “Stupid is as stupid does.” I agree. I don’t think people are stupid, I think behaviors are stupid. Casting people aside as too stupid to fix is to render them as lost causes. That cannot be true. Only evil people are lost causes, but that does not mean evil people are stupid, or vice versa.
Life is not baseball and three strikes do not necessarily mean you are out for good. We are all entitled to more at bats, the umpire can make mistakes, and maybe the catcher dropped the ball. There are always ways around things, if you fix your stupid.
So, tipping my cap to Ron White… you are hilarious, sir, but you are wrong. It would be stupid of me to believe otherwise.