Taking the ‘idiot challenge’

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George Hasara – Columnist

I’m taking the “idiot challenge.” It’s a little game I’ve made up and the rules are simple. Don’t call anyone an “idiot.” The same goes for any synonyms such as stupid, moron, imbecile or other derogatory labels best left to the reader’s imagination.  It’s not that I’m an insult machine. In fact, over the years, the incidents of “idiot” being uttered, muttered or thought of, has steadily declined. Nevertheless, the emergence of social media and its convergence with politics has created a new paradigm. The sprouting of insults in our society has overrun the garden of civility. My hope is that on a personal level, I can at least do my part to weed out a few put-downs.  

There’s nothing particularly wrong with criticizing things that you disagree with. It’s healthy to do so. However, simply because someone holds a differing opinion does not mean that their mental faculties are impaired. Also, they very well may be thinking that you are the one that is a nitwit, and we all know that’s not true. Name calling, especially the type that targets intellect, can feel satisfying and self-righteous in the moment, but is a crude knee-jerk reaction and a lazy way to think. Insults aren’t arguments. It takes work to deconstruct or refute an idea. Think of your favorite love-to-hate political figure or perhaps a pesky coworker. “Wow, what a dumb ***!” So, once it has been asserted that a person lacks a functional brain, where do we go from there? 

Calling someone stupid is incredibly imprecise. It reminds me of my labeling system when I package things. Rather than take the time to properly sort things out, I have a tendency to throw stuff together and write “miscellaneous” on the box. “Okay, that’s taken care of, on to the next project.” And so it is with the labeling of people, we just stick them in the “buffoon” box and call it day.

Even the slight linguistic change of attacking an idea rather than the person is a big improvement. Instead of calling Mr. Smith an idiot, it is far better to say that, “Mr. Smith’s proposal of introducing the Tasmanian Devil into our area in order to eat the road kill is idiotic.” Sure, those are still fighting words, but at least attention is shifted to the actual topic at hand. Tasmanian Devils do have a hankering for dead carcasses, so maybe, after all, there is something to talk about.

The “idiot challenge” represents self-control and preciseness of language which in turns leads to clearer thinking. In my high school basketball playing days, I was able to train myself to change my two favorite cuss words on the court to the G-rated words “fudge and shucks.” I don’t know if that made me a better player or not, but it did demonstrate that you can re-program your reactive mind and become a more civil person, something that today is in short supply.

Contact George at georgehasara@yahoo.com.

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