Are you Stupid!

We’ve heard the term stupid being used a bit in the public forum lately. If you haven’t well, you’re keeping your attentions in a private world. I often cringe when I hear the debater refer to a single word which can have a meaning take you to two or more distinct understandings. I will try to state my case.

We use a term such as stupid, (and it applies to many other words) loosely. We project its meaning on objects or people or situations which we intend to mean one  thing but taken later to mean something else. But the point I would like to focus on is the use and then later interpretation of a word, but more specifically the term stupid.

Let me begin by refining the term to two specific meanings, others may apply but for sake of this blog, lets use these two. The first use applies to the lack of  or the capacity to  learn. the second use applies to the slowness in which a person can learn. We can inject that the first use includes the lack of logical process or common sense in using knowledge, therefore stupid, and the second could also include the slow application of  knowledge they may have on hand, but lets just focus on the more narrow, just to see what I am driving at.

We some times will call an object stupid. Like when we trip over a rock, we may in frustration label the rock stupid. In this case neither the first or the second use of the work actually applies. To call an object stupid implies that there exists a rock which cannot be stupid, or said another way, has the facilities to process information. we know that is not the case. Therefore these objects are not stupid. I can get into projecting the term on object is really avoiding applying the same term to ourselves, but my point is simply, we use the terms very broadly. We all know this is a “stupid” analogy, because through common sense we all know the rock hasn’t got a brain, and we all know that “it’s just an expression.” But we dismiss this analogy much the same when it does make a bigger difference.

We will call someone stupid when he lack knowledge of a topic. Now this is where it gets dicey. Does the person not know the topic because he cannot, or will not learn this subject. Is he incapable of learning this subject or finds the topic difficult to grasp. Then is the difficulty in grasping a topic a mere matter of time in gathering the support material to lay a proper foundation to understand this topic.

I think the above statement lays it out, but lets give some context to the subject. Lets bring in two boys I will name John and Mark. These boys are both taking a math course. Mark is learning at a slower pace. It took him 10 hours to study for an exam and Mark just needed a 30 min review. When taking the test sure enough they both passed the test.  But Mark is less stupid than John, or John is stupid while Mark is not, when applying the second meaning. So as the talk goes someone else, say the next teacher hears that John is stupid (this only applied when comparing Mark and John) but the teacher interprets the term “Stupid” in the first way, and thinks that John is incapable of learning the subject and does not care to give his time and  effort towards him. Well, John is not incapable, he is even determined to take the next course but is judge prematurely.

We all do this. More generally we call someone stupid just because they do not know a subject or two but this does not mean they cannot if they want to.  A person that is not interested in learning is not stupid. In fact this lack of interest is something totally outside this discussion. If I don’t want to become  a biologist, but rather be a carpenter, I am not stupid for not knowing biology like a professional biologist would.

But now lets look at the first use of the term. The incapacity to learn.  To give this context, lest compare a dog with a man. We think many dogs can learn lot about what we would expect a dog to learn, but if we try to teach a dog to understand and use of algebra, we all know where this will go. Where even to begin. There is no amount of time we can give to this effort that will change the outcome, based on our current understanding of dogs. They are incapable of learning algebra, but they often can communication very well.

There are very few people in the world that fit this category. Humans are not stupid in this way. But we mean that a person is slower at learning or understanding a subject, apply that to all subjects and then fall back to the first interpretation that they are incapable. Don’t we project stupidity on ourselves for this. For by doing this, we just are not using common sense, which is another common way stupidity is used.

Given time and interest, all people can learn. Some learn faster than others. We think of these folks as intelligent. Because intelligence is the ability to learn, those quicker at it are more intelligent, those less quick at it are just less intelligent, but are they stupid. Well some may argue for it, but I think not. Hope I don’t have to explain.

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Steeling a Conversation

You know, you have them every day! You try to talk about something, like your favorite food, say, and the subject gets taken over by a swift change of subject.  There you are in a discussion, like as a silent participant over something you don’t care to discuss or have any input for.  This is what I will call steeling a conversation.

Of course, this happens all the time. Often with your blessing. You may not care most of the time, but it may not be OK some of the time, especially if you need to talk out a problem or resolve an issue.

I have no pretense in correcting this age old problem but perhaps, if you can see when this happens you may be able to correct the situation when it is important, or leave alone when it is not.

You often know that the conversation is hijacked several moments later when you take note that you are no longer able to bring up your desired point of conversation because you are not now talking about them.  What just happened. I suggest there are several reasons this may happen.

1. All parties are not in tune with your need in the conversation.

2. New participants enter the discussion and they have no concern for where the conversation started, only to discuss their own concerns.

3. Your partners or even yourself take a one-off logical step and steer the conversation in a branch, unintentionally.

While these may not be all inclusive, they do represent a good cross section of topics that we can use  to complete a good round of discussion over them.

All parties are not in tune with your need in the conversation.

On an earlier blog, I wrote about “Connecting the Dots.” Where, in trying to communicate a certain topic gets lost in translation between people. The issue rests with all parties, but if you can see early in the discussion, that one or more of the parties is not quite where you want  them to be, time to pause. Think a moment about the disconnect, and depending on if you are dealing with a friend or foe, you may ask them to take a moment to understand each others terms, and begin to rephrase, or stop and quietly make a best shot at rephrasing to influence a connection. If dealing with a conflicting partner, don’t try to make them accept terms they find trouble with but find terms they will accept or can agree with as long as you both understand what is intended to be the meaning.

Of course, friends often need only a simple suggestion that they are off topic and they will likely re-direct their thoughts. But friends, being mindful of trying to be helpful, know what you need and will with good intention, try to push this point of view, often at the expense of real communication. If it appears this has occurred, you may not be able to get them to re-direct, at least for the moment. It can be frustrating, and if you are emotional about the topic,  it can lead to some terse exchanges. If you can be mindful of the fact that, while they mean well, they stole the conversation, you might step back a while and re-address the issue later. Conflicted conversations do occur, and in some instances are necessary for many reasons, so you might be able to use this information to assist in resolving the conflicts. If you can better articulate what you are wanting to discuss, it may solve your issues, while also helping the others to see your intentions.  If conversations are not two way, it is amazing we can discuss anything of value at all. It may point to the fact that while the other parties are not in tune with you, the mere fact that you are discussing and focusing on your topic, may be all this is needed, for yourself, the other parties may be left out, unfortunately. You can bring them up to speed later when better conditions allow.

For those who are adversarial and do not have an interest in keeping in tune with your discussion, similar approaches can work, while most of the work may need to be done by yourself. Often combatants want to own a word or phrase, and when you use them for your own purpose, they refuse to allow it and will force the topic in line with their view. You see this often in the Political debates on television. They may know full well you did not mean to say what they see in the phrase, but for political purposes they want to win the word game.  They want to force the topic to tune in to their agenda.  I believe the best way to deal with this is to talk past them to another audience if present. It can have the effect of not allowing them to steal this conversation in this way. Obviously, this is difficult and if you recognize it, you may be left with leaving the conversation for someone who will tune in and allow you to find that resolution.

New participants enter the discussion and they have no concern for where the conversation started, only to discuss their own concerns.

You have seen this one often, especially when you are in a public or work place but it can happen anywhere. A simple example is that you are discussing a work problem, someone else comes in the office and makes a joke about something.  The discussion turns on a dime and you are left dangling with the problem.  This problem is simple to understand but difficult to deal with.  You have multiple parties and all of them were rude in allowing the change to occur. It does take a bit of confidence to take a stance and ask the intruder to please give you a moment but then the other parties have to concur. This may not happen, and your left to wait it out until you can get back to the subject. You know, we have all been guilty of this, especially, if you enter a discussion where you have an agenda and you want top priority. Somewhat selfish isn’t it. Of course if you are approached by a superior, like your supervisor, boss, or anyone of importance to you, you may want to yield the ground out of respect. If you are in an equal situation, you cannot control the other parties if they want to be rude. While this is not hard to see what this issue is, you may find it hard to manage. Sometimes, a simple “excuse me, let me finish” may work, and other times, you may need to be patient. It is also very frustrating, especially if the same person does this to you often. For our own parts, we are not so important that we cannot find a good time to enter the conversation, or at least respect those you intend to interrupt and announce yourself. Make friends or enemies, this is also a two way street. The better we all are at this the better we all are.

Your partners or even yourself take a one-off logical step and steer the conversation in a branch, unintentionally

You know the best thing to do is to keep clear what you are wanting to talk about. Of course many times we are talking just to talk and we really do not care where it goes. But, sometimes, you do want to keep the subject on topic. One-off logic is sometimes hard to notice until its too late and then it is a bit awkward to step back. But if you want to keep the topic on target, and you can see when this happens, you may be able to re-direct more comfortably.

What is a one-off logic, from my point of view? Its like talking about something, a term or phrase is used, that could have multiple meanings. In context it can have only one meaning but for some reason the conversation begins to take on the alternate meaning and without thinking about it or pausing the subject to clarify, you participate by adding and continue down that path. In a few moments you wonder why are we talking about this.   I can only broadly give an example, by exaggerating; You are talking about what to bring to a friends dinner party with your spouse, and you mention something like, “like what we did with football party”, a reply “Which one?’, you say, the Cowboy game! and the conversation begins to talk about that party, or spins into football etc.

One-offs can be subtle or very obvious.  The trick is to stay focused your self, and if you can, save the other conversations to later and try to refocus on the intended subject.  I think that one-off diversions occur most often in general conversations and all parties are just trying to be interesting. Each with their own story. If it don’t matter, then let it not matter.  Sometimes it occurs because the participants do not want to discuss the subject. If you can see that, keep returning the the subject line. Stay focused and be patient. They may resist often, but if it is important, its important. The worst thing to do, is to let it get to you. Know when you just are not going to accomplish your task and declare in some way that you will get back to them on this issue, but sometimes you just gotta persist. It will be easier to get the job done if you can remain clear, objective and assertive.  Eventually you will converge on some sort of conclusive end.

Well this has been just an off the top of my head dissertation.  It is frustrating to me that many conversation do not converge to meaningful ends. I wonder why, and the above is what I come up with. It helps me to flesh this out. While I am sure there is much that can be added to these points, it does satisfy me for now.

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The Stranger

One day while traveling through town, I ran across an old friend of mine. He had changed quite a bit from the last time I saw him. He had a long beard and his breath smelled of alcohol. His clothes were worn thin and very dirty. It was a sad picture.

What was I supposed to do? I felt torn inside to do something for him, but he hardly gave me the time of day. He was a good friend. He helped me start my business. He was there for me when I needed him. I’m amazed. What could have happened to him?

I turned around to talk with him, but he had gone. I looked every where for him and could not find him. No one had seen him. I began to wonder, was he hiding from me? The more I wondered, the more I felt sad and perplexed.

This was very strange! Later, after going home, I tried to find his old address or an old phone number, something to help me find him again. I couldn’t remember anything. Who was he?

I was disturbed with this all day and night. Early next morning, I realized who he was. I looked around the house. How did I get here, from there!

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The Biscuit and Pie Caper

Two brothers were preparing for dinner. One would like to have toast and the other wanted biscuits.

Now if they have toast for dinner, then the family would likely have room for desert and of course being full bodied, this was most pleasing to the one because, “he makes a mean pie”. The other thought that if they could have biscuits, then the family would enjoy them more than toast and they usually sing his praises for them. For he does make a great biscuit. Of course, his favorite honey would be very good with them.

As they began to prepare for dinner, the heavier brother would constantly call for desert options and if the other brother would agree, then he could assume that toast would be on the table for everyone. But the lighter brother also knew that If they spent time making the desert, he would not have time to make his biscuits, so he would not talk about the desert. He would remind his heavier brother that there is no fresh bread in the house, even though it was purchased the day before.

Time was passing, and they did need to get the job done. The family would be home soon, and it would not be good to be unready. They would not care for either pie or biscuits if there was nothing else to eat. So, they both decided to work on their own. One made a cream pie and the other created the best biscuits yet, as he would say. As you might expect, enough time got away for them that dinner was supposed to be ready and there was no main course yet.

Just about this time, a call came in from dad. He called to remind them that the rest of the family was going to eat out, because the event would be so late to finish. He had asked them if they had managed their own dinner? “It just got out of the oven”, one replied.

When he hung up, he told his brother, the news. They looked at each other and wondered what they would do. They had a Pie and some biscuits. “What were we going to prepare for the main meal?’ one asked. They could not find anything in the refrigerator nor the cupboards. They looked at each other, and sat down for dinner. They were very tired and still needed to clean up.

“The Pie was delicious,” the heavier brother said. “‘Well I liked my biscuits, with the honey, best hot”, the lighter brother said.

They cleaned up the kitchen and then retired to the den. The rest of the family came home soon after and mom said as she entered the room, “I brought you some Cream Pie from the restaurant , and some dinner rolls. I know how much you like them. How was the casserole I made you?”, They both sunk into their chair, and said at the same time, “In the Microwave?”

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It was a hot summer day in July. It  rained a few days before, about eleven inches actually, but the ground was already cracking from the heat. The grass was still green and growing but if I waited long enough maybe the sun would burn it off? ‘Naw‘, the wife would keep the grass watered, so I decided to mow the lawn. I hesitated a moment and looked at the TV Guide and thought, nothing too exciting on at four in the afternoon, so I tossed it aside, and well, I needed the exercise.

 Trouble never seems to come unannounced. What’s more, I never hear the warnings until it’s too late. The mower needed gas, and of course I had none. After getting the gas the mower refused to start until I had warmed it   with about thirty strokes of the pull cord. At least it had a power drive! Well, it was supposed to, but I couldn’t stop now, so I endured. Forty five minutes later and a waist size or two smaller, and a sunburn, with a bit better hindsight than foresight, I realized I should have watched a movie!

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That Night

wall cloud

Just a Part of the Storm.

I am thinking,.. the last time a storm came through, … management let us go home. I think safety was their concern, but they also did not want to deal with anxieties of us all. Some of us are annoying. But this time, the storm is threatening large hail and strong winds and here we sit.

Well it is about closing time and the boss moved quickly through the halls. “Go home,” he said. He does not like to send people home early, but he was serious. It made me look at my weather app on the phone. Sure enough, some ugly clouds floated just to the west of town. So, I made haste. I just got my car fixed from the last hail storm! It took almost a year, but it looked good again. Traffic was heavier. Everyone was going home. I thought, is my garage cleaned up enough to park the car. My current project is sprawled out for painting. I was getting a bit tense.

The sky was darkening, as though the sun was setting, but the sun could not be seen and it was far from sunset. Pulling up to the house, I raced to clear a space for the car and pulled it in. I thought the worst thing now would be the house could get messed up again from large hail stones. My wife and I discussed the storm a bit as we prepared our dinner.

The Sirens began to blow. Civil Defense usually will turn those things on when the winds reach a certain speed, so I was not immediately concerned. I did though, have a feeling of de’jevue. It was about this time in the day about a year back that surprised us with a 5 min hail storm that destroyed the roofs of every home in the area as well as took out many windows. But, I thought, we just have to wait it out.

The sirens did not stop. They drove me crazy. They could not be ignored, and drove us to turn on the local news for the first time in while. Wouldn’t you know it, the weather man was front and center on the screen. He is reporting that the storm has rotations and that the people in the west part of town should take cover. A tornado, was not spotted but heavy rain obscured visual sittings. This time, it was too close for comfort and I should not be surprised. I took to set up some precautions. I needed some blankets and water and a little food, a flashlight, and I need to buy a first aid kit, unfortunately not now.

The sirens continued to blow. The weatherman kept getting reports of power going out, rain falling up to several inches, and reports of suspicious circulation around downtown. That was closer. I was now officially tense. I had to endure a few hours before the storm passed by. The winds were blowing hard, and damage was reported in some places, and it looked like the storm passed over the workplace.

When the sirens finally cleared, the news reported a second wave may come through in a few hours, but the worst was over.

The next day, the talk was about who got hit and who didn’t. No one was hurt, they say and really not much damage. There were tornado’s but may have skipped through and past town. We did not see hail nor heavy rain at the house, but the rain that did fall filled our lakes, so that was the silver lining.

Did I say I got tense, that night?


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Let Me Argue With You.

I discussed with a work-mate over some political view-point. It was clear to me that his point of view had conflicts between what he said he believed and what he thought his politics were. After discussing the topic with him, I was able to focus his personal views and used them to draw attention to the conflicts in his political view. In this conversation we each considered each others points, and respected them.  The topic did move towards a consensus. We both agreed.

Later I had another discussion over the state of a technology and I placed some idea. I didn’t believe that idea existed but would have liked it to. The Conversation began to border on ridicule of the idea. I did try to soften the attack by conceding that they may not like the idea, and they are welcome to use whatever approach suited them. The attacks did not stop. There was no amount of persuasion or dissuasion, concession or even agreement that would change the course of this topic. The only end game was to part in discuss. The partner is not unfriendly to me, but in this case was not going to accept anything but surrender. It was just a suggestion.

On another day, I was sitting around with friends and we began to discuss something of the current affairs. It was not long before all sort of different notions were entering the conversations. Eventually, the topic even changed to cover something else. When the room became silent, someone ask, what brought this up anyway.

At work we had a meeting. No one at the meeting were going to give anything to the discussion. It was a briefing  on the state of business. The communication was one way. After the meeting, we got back to the office and the conversation on the subject lasted only a few minutes before we got back to work. There was nothing else to say.

I would say, in each case there was an argument. In one case the conversation converged to an agreement, while in other cases no such result occurred. The cases I set for the above illustrate four different approaches to conversation. (Because we deal with mankind, I am sure you can find others). There was a convergent, a hostile, a divergent, and an informative conversations.

Taking them in reverse order, the informative conversation is just that. The argument is really not debated that much the participants must absorb the information and perhaps later express content or discontent. It comes in various forms, Advertising, Training, Briefings, TV, Radio, Newspaper but it is also likely between friends where one is not going to respond. Passive aggressive people will fall into a behavior of quietly disagreeing with  the opinion or point of view of one or another. They may also quietly work against those ideas.

The informative conversation could be positive or negative. As long as you respect the presenter, even negative information is useful and productive. You may agree with the topic in advance and accept the information as useful. You may disagree with the information but listen and struggle with what it means to you, But with biased information, participants must decide to accept or decline, but they cannot change the information(remember its one way.) With regular and persistent offering of this information, participants begin to believe it without so much as a whimper. Even worse, because the information is  pervasive, it silences your disagreement. You’re not event passive aggressive. You just become passive. Some though will not allow that to happen (they stay active, or aware of their dissent).

A divergent conversation occurs when one or all the participant lose focus but continue the conversation as though it was on topic. It is difficult to conclude anything from it. We see this often in meetings where discussion start to diverge from the agenda. Many of the topics are not the subject of the meeting, but keep happening. The Meeting organizer cannot keep them together. A divergent conversation occurs more often that you think. It doesn’t take much. If one person in a conversation takes offense about one word you use or doesn’t like an illustration, they begin to contest it. At this point the conversation begins to sway away from the intended topic. If you are the purveyor of the information it is best not to engage in that divergence. Divergence, as a tactical tool,   is a defensive tool.  Being predisposed for disagreement,   and instead of stating their disagreement, they distract from it by taking the topic to other issues.

A hostile conversation is altogether foreign to me. I do get hostile from time to time. We all do. I mean, using this tool to try to destroy any concept however great or small. It’s not just about disagreement of a topic, it becomes personal. They need not to win the argument but humiliate the opponent. They have to make sure that no resemblance of what started the action is remaining. I find this approach not only surprising but I don’t fully understand it. It goes beyond competitiveness. You see this in the news so often when opposing political views get an imbalanced line. Let the other side have some comments and then let the others try to crush the ideas, often through ridicule, divergence or something I call one-off arguments. The nature of the one-off is like a conclusion being brought to the table with something missing. It could be a point from another argument which just doesn’t match the current one exactly and used in another as thought they are the same thing.

I saved the last type for last because it is the one I wanted to close with. A Convergent conversation is one that moves to a conclusion. Not all conversations need to. But if we use a  principle of Convergence, many conversations, even those not on any topic, will be more productive and leave everyone in better spirits. A Convergent conversation can lead to all parties agreeing that they just do not agree with each other, but they all understand to some degree where the others come from. In these cases, it takes some discipline not to let the conversation derail into one of the other types mentioned above. It could be that after you let the information digest, one or several of the participant can see a solution where one did not exist before. Discuss  this in a later conversation again and perhaps then they can agree to agree.

A convergent conversation moves on topic and distractions avoided. This is difficult sometimes but worth the effort. I would love to see a news commentary program work on this concept. It may take an arbitrator without an agenda, working with two ideological opponents, publically working through their differences. I am afraid that either side would rather use the hostile form to try to conquer, as opposed to finding a workable agreement to co-exists.

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