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Why do we criticize stupid people?

At every turn, we see people do things that appear stupid or idiotic. Even governments and public officials earn our angst and condemnation for things they purportedly do on our behalf. Our typical reaction is to criticize, condemn or tell off the person/s. However, we do know that people who actually ‘know’ better often do better. Therefore, the only reason that people do stupid things is simply because they do not know better. So, what is the usefulness of criticizing them? Is it because it gives us a superlative and superior feeling over such persons? If so, this is mere vanity because our relative knowledge over others is either an incident of our nature and nurturing; two attributes we are either born with or chanced to. So, the only rational and non-judgmental reaction to ‘inferior’ conduct is not to loose our cool, but to be our brother’s keeper – by approaching such persons – if they want us to, with humility and point out their errors without ridicule or judgment.

Do you agree?

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    Apr 14 2014: Because hope dies last ...
  • Apr 11 2014: Even with humility, pointing out errors can be met with anger and hostility. If the intent is self-less an noble, and not served in a condescending way, it may be well received...or not. Trying to correct and improve someone outside a structured environment like a classroom might be considered a threat. We might be willing to accept this risk, bit by the same token, we should not be expected to take this risk. Stupid people also deserve to learn from their mistakes. Some may actually learn better that way.

    I agree with some of the reasons you post relative to making ourselves look smarter or better, sadly.

    If we are in discussions with someone we care about, talking critically about stupid people, we might be trying to point out the flaws so that others (such as the person in our conversation) learn form the mistakes and understand the correct answer or way to do something.
  • Apr 16 2014: People learn from their environments and from their culture. Somewhere, sometime, it became cool to make fun of less intelligent people. People find humor in it and can relate to one another over similar experiences. We've grown up with it in our vocabulary - its on TV and in movies. Deep down I would hope we all have empathy for someone who needs guidance or assistance and not be mean and cruel.
    • Apr 17 2014: Wow i really like what youve said
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    Apr 11 2014: I prefer defining ignorant as simply not knowing any better while stupid actually does know better but simply refuses to acknowledge it or to operate within that understanding. Many of us have had the experience of being too stubborn, too conceited or even too embarrassed to change our ways regardless of how much feedback we get that we are wrong.

    In top down hierarchies where status and title has more relevance than competency it is often suicide to admit we are wrong for fear of losing our status and/or titles. This is why blame always runs downhill.

    I agree whole heartedly with your assessment that losing one's cool with the "stupid" is non productive. However, creating environments where people can feel free from blame and rancour to admit they were wrong or did not know enough goes much farther than simply learning to tolerate. Sometimes tolerance can simply reinforce the stupid's sense of being right all along.

    Ultimately being critical of others, especially with the use of terms such as "stupid" bestows power on the accuser and diminishes the target of the criticism. The self-righteous, the arrogant and the petty mean-spirited are huge users of such put downs and disparaging remarks, often used to bulwark their own insecurities or simply because that was the environment they where raised in. Sadly though, it is often they who are being "stupid".

    .
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    Apr 11 2014: I think you need to be carefull how you approach things. Saying you would approach a person with humility an point out their errors makes the assumption that we are right. Outside of science and mathematics, I'm not certain we can make that conclusion. I would suggest walking a mile in another shoes as a first step.
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    Apr 30 2014: We are criticize them, just to tell OUR VERSION, how would we react if we were on their place. We are showing that we are not stupid, and also, we are not doing stupid things, right?
    Uplifting ourselves, and underestimating others.

    Defence mechanism.
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      May 10 2014: I agree Jelena, that it can be a defense mechanism....superficially uplifting ourselves, while underestimating, or undermining someone...either ourselves or others when we call ourselves stupid, or other people stupid. In my perception, it does not serve any useful purpose. There are certainly lots of other ways to uplift our self, rather than trying to put someone else down.
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    Apr 16 2014: Musk, I hope that when you asked why do "we" criticize stupid people, you were not including all who are on TED reading this, myself included. But to address your question, I know of people that love to travel but do not know how to fly a plane, and people that love fine dining but cannot make toast, and people that love to sing in their car, but their voice only attracts cats. A small example, but you get the point that nobody knows everything. Like the comment Adriaan made, "we are all stupid about something". There is always something more to learn in this life, and I think that if you have an abundance of knowledge than you have the responsibility to share that knowledge. I also believe that there are some minimally educated people who are of great value to their friends, families and community for their kind heart and good nature. I will refer to a statement that my grandfather often made......."book learning ain't everything". There are also some highly educated people that are miserable and lonely. They think they know everything and have a mean spirit and cold heart, and believe that other should be criticized if they are stupid.
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    Apr 14 2014: To distinguish stupidity from ignorance; one must know they are acting in their own worst interest. Secondly, it must be a choice, not a forced act or accident. Lastly, it requires the activity to be maladaptive, in that it is in the worst interest of the actor, and specifically done to prevent adaption to new data or existing circumstances." (Wikipedia).

    Often we call names to make ourselves look or feel better. Politicians use this often ... why point at me ... look at what the other guy did ... its his fault, not mine ... it works on the play ground and uninformed minds.

    When a leader says lets vote this in and we will read it later ... they know better ,, have violated a trust ... and acted irresponsibly ... and meets the definitation of "stupid".

    We have access to history and shoud be able to learn from the errors of others .... It is a fact that you cannot continue to spend more money than you make or is available ... to do so would be considered "stupid" and one must suffer the consequences of that "dumb" decision making. In business it would be bankruptcy and/or jail time ... in a individual it could be bankruptcy and/or jail time ... History has shown us this is has caused the fall of nations / states. To not learn from history is like the defination of "crazy" to continue to do the same things over and over and expect different results .... now that is stupid.

    "Stupid" decisions would mean the party was informed and still made a bad decision ... only "some" of the people are held responsible for those actions. Elected officials should be examined and their actions transparent and held to account .... they are public servants and any attempt to become elite and above the laws should be immediately addressed.

    Yep I used politicians as samples of bad or even "stupid" behavior ... the samples are fact and public knowledge. I used them as something we could all relate to. It will anger some. Oh well.

    Bob.
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    Apr 14 2014: Musk,
    Why do you need to label people stupid? Or say that some people have "inferior conduct"? Perhaps if one can answer these questions, s/he may be able to answer the question regarding why they need to criticize others.

    I suggest you have answered your question.....it may provide a superficial sense of feeling superior. There is another question....why do some folks need to create a superficial sense of superiority?
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      Apr 14 2014: "...why do some folks need to create a superficial sense of superiority?"

      I sort of touched on this in my initial comment a few days ago. When people feel inadequate in some way(s) - which includes most people - they are often unable to do something to improve themselves for some reason(s) having to do with desire, motivation, fear, money, family obligations, limited capacity mentally, emotionally or physically, etc. Also, even if one could improve one's situation, doing so takes time and effort.

      A quick and easy way out is to instead cut others down, which makes one feel like they've now attained some elevated status. This is, of course, a self-delusion, but a great many people seem to not be able to see it that way. So, as a ready example, if you look at any news article on any web site that allows reader comments, you'll see that a large percentage of the forums quickly devolve into exchanges of name calling, dissing and other demeaning posts that lower the status of all parties involved, yet many move on from these "discussions" feeling like they've defended their opinions well and clearly demonstrated their intelligence, knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

      Yes, this creates a superficial sense of superiority, but if it "feels" real enough to the perpetrator, that's good enough for the moment. And the habit develops quickly. And it needs to be repeated often, because that darned feeling of inadequacy keeps rearing its head. Because there never was any real improvement.
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        Apr 14 2014: I agree:>)
      • Apr 23 2014: “Why do some folks need to create a superficial sense of superiority?”
        The question “why do some folks need to create a superficial sense of superiority?” begs a deeper question: ‘Why do some folks feel they are in a position to defend others?’
        Is it in veiled self-defense because such folks subconsciously feel they are members of the group perceived to be under attack or are such folks consumed by self-absorption, the need to come to the aid of persons they regard weaker than themselves, and therefore needing their protection? By the very presumption that one is in a position to defend other people, such folks presume moral superiority to those they label as attackers, and condescension to persons they presume are in need of their protection.
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          Apr 23 2014: "Why do some folks feel they are in a position to defend others?" "such folks presume moral superiority" "condescension"

          There is, I feel, another approach to consider here. Some of us act from a deep realization of oneness: we are all in this together; we are all one.

          If I am aware that someone is being criticized, I, too, am being criticized, because in our deepest essence, there is no difference between the one being criticized and me; we are one and the same. Also, the one who is criticizing is also me; we, too, are one and the same. Therefore, there is no sense of superiority and no sense of condescension because there is no separation.

          There are diverse manifestations of our essential oneness, including many individuals who are unaware of our essential oneness, and who therefore find it difficult to appreciate diversity. Through their disharmonious actions, they cause discomfort for the whole of us. Those aspects of our essential oneness who are able to, can and do strive to help those aspects living and acting in the shadow of ignorance by acting with an intent to bring a greater sense of harmony to the whole of us; to the oneness.

          Addition: Such actions, along with many others, are manifestations of Love; spreading Love throughout the oneness of humanity, and throughout the oneness of all beings.
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          May 10 2014: Musk,
          Personally, I do not feel that I am defending anyone. You asked a question, and I addressed the question based on my own observation, perception and experiences.

          I agree with Carl and the belief that we are all connected, so to call someone stupid, or to perceive someone as stupid, is merely a reflection of myself. I do not choose to do that to myself, or anyone else.
    • Apr 15 2014: Sometime I am stupid and people take me to task. You can appreciate that. And it may be pleasurable also. I am OK to be called stupid sometime.
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        May 10 2014: Honestly RAJ, I do not "appreciate" it. If you accept and appreciate it.....so be it......it is not my choice. I cannot even imagine how it can be pleasurable for anyone.
        • May 10 2014: Colleen:

          We two are meant to be sparring partners. Here we go again.

          You may not have known it, but you very nicely told me that I am stupid.

          I am generic in my language and country in my persona. You with contagious smile (I like it from pic) and beautiful command of English language and fine sense of "Society culture" are saying same thing to me that I am stupid and your implying that is my own fault.

          I have no complain. I take is as compliment in my own little world. Thank you.
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        May 10 2014: RAJ.....for clarity......
        "Sparring is a form of training common to many combat sports. Although the precise form varies, it is essentially relatively 'free-form' fighting, with enough rules, customs, or agreements to make injuries unlikely. By extension, argumentative debate is sometimes called "verbal sparring".

        With the definition in mind, I do not perceive myself as "sparring". I am here to share thoughts, feelings, ideas, perceptions, perspectives, etc. in a non-combative, respectful way.

        I did NOT, in any way, shape, or form tell you that you are stupid. I disagreed with you, and to interpret a disagreement as telling someone s/he is stupid brings up an important element, which has already been discussed in this conversation.

        Unfortunately, some folks call each other stupid, when they are only disagreeing, and it is sometimes a way to try to win an argument. Personally, I prefer to say I disagree, which does NOT suggest that anyone is stupid.

        According to the accepted definition, stupidity is "a lack of intelligence, understanding, reason, wit, or sense."

        There is a BIG difference between disagreement and stupidity, and if more people recognized that, perhaps there might be less misunderstanding and misinterpretation in our world:>)

        I take parts of your comment as compliments...."contagious smile" and "command of English language".....thank you....from my own little world....which in my humble perception, is connected to your world:>)
    • Apr 23 2014: Colleen, you wish to know why I need to label people ‘stupid’ in my question “Why do we criticize stupid people?”
      The subject in my question is the ‘collective self’; we, not I. So, the question rephrased is really” Why does each of us criticize persons we deem ‘stupid.’ When I chose the term stupid, I was simply assuming our perception and base instincts towards people we deem doing silly and unintelligent things. ‘Stupid’ therefore, is a judgment call; an action-imperative that provokes our compulsion to meet out (critical) corrective response. I agree I could have posed the question differently, but I wanted to retain the ‘sting’ and insensibility of our judgment-call that goads us into criticizing others. This, you can now see was explained in the subsequent texts to the question. The final question ‘do you agree’ is whether you agree that our reaction to unintelligent acts should be corrective rehabilitation or punitive condemnation? Altogether, my question has more to do with personal self-improvement, and less to do with comparing ourselves to others. I hope this clears the misconstrued perception that the term ‘stupid people’ presupposed a feeling of superiority towards others.
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        May 10 2014: I think I understood how you were using the term "we" Musk. I do not agree that "we" (the collective self) call people stupid. That being said, I observe that it is a choice some people make for whatever reason. I believe it is an insecure reaction, which is a reflection of the one criticizing.

        I do not "deem" anyone "stupid", therefor, I do not perceive any reason to call people stupid.....it is an insecure choice, and it has already been discussed that it may be a superficial attempt at superiority.

        I agree with you that it is a judgment call, and I am not in a position to judge, nor do I have any desire to judge others.
  • Apr 14 2014: We are all stupid about something.

    But that's how we learn to appreciate others, to recognize the reason for their (stupid) actions or words. If in their situation we may have done even more stupid things.

    So the first reaction should not be to condemn, but to help.
  • Apr 13 2014: Improve the species. All species do it in one way or another. In nature once a kill is made there is an established pecking order of who eats first and who eats last. Orderly eating, table manners.. if you will. Even Killer whales upon finding a carcass of a whale will swim around it for awhile to establish who is the largest of the Killer whales and they will eat first. We are no different, we are animals. Sometimes I expect more from humans and I always get let down and I really should not. It is ludicrous to think that any animal will behave differently that the rest of the species. Learned behaviors are a temporary condition conjured up by our conscience however our animal instincts are just under the surface in our sub-conscience mind, waiting to happen at any time. So the further the gap between our conscience fairy tale and our true animal nature, the more neurotic we become.

    As for how we criticize, that would be table manners, another learned behavior.
  • Apr 13 2014: I think it depends:

    1. A mentally challenged individual should never be criticized.
    2. A person makes a stupid mistake for the 1st time. if they learn from the mistake, then they are more valuable.
    3. A supposedly intelligent person continues to make the same mistake and sometimes seems to be proud about it. These have to be criticized and fired. It is clear they can not learn.
    • Apr 17 2014: Its crazy how some people dont even give the first time offender a chance to prove they have changed
      • Apr 17 2014: I agree how do they expect them to learn especially if they are doing research in something brand new. I was taught this by a former boss
  • Apr 11 2014: I wanted to just say that we do so because it's fun. But really, my own thinking has improved thanks to criticism. Sure, sometimes I knew no better, but that's the point, isn't it? Making us aware and then we start knowing better.

    I used to be swayed by mere rhetoric. I could not distinguish between beautifully presented bullshit and actual insight. Criticism has helped.

    I also think that when we criticize stupidity, even if the person presenting the stupidity does not get it, other people who might be moved by the stupid otherwise might start to see the problems and learn to be much more careful to distinguish nicely said from nicely thought.

    Anyway, sure. It's fun. It might be mostly useless, but hopefully a few people are helped by the criticism.
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    Apr 11 2014: Yes, vanity is often a motivation for criticizing people who we judge as stupid. Although just because someone does something that appears to be the result of stupidity, it may actually be due to some other reason - perhaps some disability. Also, intelligent people sometimes do stupid things.

    Lot's of people don't feel very confident about themselves regarding their intelligence and capabilities, which makes them feel uncomfortable. So, when they see someone who obviously appears to be stupid, they are quick to take advantage of the situation, not so much to show how stupid the other person is, but to try to give the impression that they are not stupid themselves - not understanding that doing that is, in fact, stupid and disrespectful.

    The best course for anyone to take is to strive to better themselves in whatever ways they can so they actually become smarter and more capable. But it seems easier to cut other people down so as to leave them with a relatively higher status, even if they haven't actually improved their own situation. In fact, buy doing this, they have actually lowered themselves, but they don't realize that - they prefer the illusion that they have demonstrated their prowess, at someone else's expense.

    When we see someone who seems to be demonstrating stupidity, the best course would be to self-reflect and see what one might learn from the situation, along with feeling compassion for the 'stupid' person. IF it seems appropriate - which takes a great deal of sensitive awareness to know what's appropriate, or a request for help - one might offer some sort of appropriate help. But help shouldn't be imposed on someone if they're not open to receiving it. Laughing, exclaiming, pointing or posting videos on YouTube are not appropriate unless the 'stupid' person gives permission.

    We're really all in this together. We would do well to realize and remember that, and learn to behave appropriately - treat each person as we wish to be treated ourselves.
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    Apr 10 2014: Why do we criticize stupid people?

    Because we pay for our stupidity and we also pay for the stupidity of others. What is the aggregate cost of stupidity or ignorance?

    "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance ... or stupidity." Derek Bok, American Educator and Lawyer (President of Harvard University, 1971-1990; born 1930)
  • May 10 2014: I was always told growing up that "ignorant is not knowing any better, stupid is knowing better but doing something anyways. "

    I criticize myself for stupid mistakes, because I know I can do better. I think its easier to forgive ignorance, even in this information age, because there isnt time enough in a day or a lifetime for one person to know everthing. Stupidity, on the other hand, seems as often as not to involve a choice. The choice to ignore the effects of our actions, or even think them through. The choice to let our minds wander and lose focus. These are the things that lead to most of my stupid mistakes and though I still make them I feel they are ultimately under my control, as they come about through my actions.

    As for criticising others, I'd say most times its a way to build up the walls of our egos. A way to convince ourselves that we are somehow "better" than them and not susceptible to being stupid or making mistakes. Its also a way to shut ourselves off from feeling compassion, a way from keeping ourselves from getting involved.
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      May 10 2014: I agree Jacob, and especially with your last paragraph......it is a way to build walls of our egos.....convince ourselves that we are somehow "better"....shut ourselves off from feeling compassion........
      Well said:>)
  • May 2 2014: Susan Boyle at British Talent comes to mind
  • Apr 28 2014: Hopefully it is because we love them and don't want them to get hurt.

    That's how it should work with kids, and some it takes longer to grow up, or old.
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    Apr 25 2014: also, one might keep some lucidity in one's mind, what appears stupid on the surface might come to seem more intelligent as one delves into it and investigates it further
  • Apr 23 2014: Stupid; lacking intelligence or common sense, Idiocy; extreme stupidity - Merriam-Webster
    For the record, in terms of social conduct (the premise of my question), without exception, we all, sometimes, do stupid and unintelligent things. However, recurrent stupidity, like idiocy transcends social attributes and mere put-downs. Acute stupidity is symptomatic of ‘idiocy’, a clinical profile of a real pathology indicated – for example, in patients with protracted dietary deficiency of iodine. There is even a standard treatment for diet-induced ‘idiocy’.
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    Apr 19 2014: Take people who were born with severe learning disabilities or impediments such as autism out of the equation, what is the primary cause of stupidity?
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    Apr 19 2014: .
    Because they hurt our symbiosis.
  • Apr 17 2014: Its funny cause say a homeless person robbed a store the person sentencing him/her would be reckless enough to think there are other homeless people who have found a way to positively achieve food by panning having not gone through that situation of homelessness themselves and they wouldnt think to putt themselves in that mans shoes. Everybodies different we dont look for ways to help each other expecially in the juduicial system we just get even and never look back. Noones stupid theyve probably had to make a decision for theyre survival or just to get by and we judge them for it.
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    Apr 17 2014: You are right. Criticism is a waste of time, because you can't cure stupid.
  • MR T

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    Apr 16 2014: We also criticise smart people with terms like 'nerd' or 'geek'.

    But at the end of the day, ask yourself; in what situations bar comedy is stupidity a favourable personality trait?

    It is strange though that it would be perceived as wrong to poke fun at a wheel-chair bound guy yet it is acceptable to do so with a stupid guy.. when it is likely that both people are equally un-responsible for their traits
  • Apr 14 2014: Four blind men sees elephant differently. Each person has neurons of the brains differently oriented. Some time it just feels good to tell some smart guys beyond our reach stupid on some idea. Like Bush2 makes language error or goes and apologize to Indian guys pushes through without saying excuse me or something like that.

    Whatever it feel good. It sure changes your mood to say some one stupid or something I cannot write here.
  • Apr 12 2014: Reading the comments there seems to be a conclusion that stupid people exist to torment the more mentally agile. But I offer this. That a good majority of comedy that we enjoy has its roots in just how stupid we are at various times. Comedy is suppose to be what differentiates us from the animals. It could be said that political correctness to use that phrase when Bill Clinton was president made us all up tight and humorless. Its dangerous legacy is still with us.
  • Apr 12 2014: In my book, you can't fix stupid. It's a birth defect, so the word stupid shouldn't really be used. But I get your question. It takes self-discipline to recognize ignorance for what it is and fear for what it does to otherwise beautiful and magnificently perfect beings. At that point, it is easy to see that how we treat others, even the willfully ignorant, is us treating ourself/selves.

    I believe that we are one. As I do to others, I do to self and that which most call God. The separations among us are mere illusions. Find that awareness and you will no longer be mean to those you look down on.
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    Apr 12 2014: Intelligent people do stupid things - probably in the same proportion as less intelligent people! So I don't agree that people who do stupid things do so because they don't know any better. People learn by example and by experience. Some people learn quickly, others need to make the same mistake many times.

    No one is perfect at everything, and people who try to be are often not accepted by their community. Sometimes it pays dividends to be a little stupid.