Rules to Live By: Everyone’s Smarter Than You Think

(I figure I’ll double up on posts now to get the ball rolling, ‘cuz I’m not gonna update it this weekend; but I probably won’t be so regular or frequent with the posts from here on.)

A rule I try to live by:

I always assume that everyone is at least half again as smart as I think they are.

This is a rule that’s hard to follow because, hey, sometimes people just seem stupid – particularly strangers and everyone on the Internet.

This Smartness +1/2 Rule is derived from another rule I try to follow, which is: I am neither unique nor am I universal.  I think a majority of the problems in the world come from people either believing that no one else could possibly have the outlook, experiences or problems that they do or that everyone else has the same outlook, experiences and problems that they do.  Neither is true, of course; we’re all unique in some small ways, and the-same-as-everybody-else in some small ways, but for the most part anything we experience, believe or feel is also something that many other people can claim as well – but not all other people.

How does this relate to the Half Again As Smart Rule?  (I haven’t figured out what to call it.)  Well, I have noticed on occasion people thinking that I am dumb when I’m not – at least, not at that moment.  I recall one fellow at a place I was employed at in college where we were doing some menial construction-type labor.  He seemed to think I was the biggest imbecile on the planet.  I believe he got this impression because I was new to the job and asked a lot of questions which he found obvious, and I was also groggy a lot in the mornings.  I knew he thought this about me, but didn’t care to disabuse him of the notion, because it meant he did the harder work, and explained all the stuff I didn’t know very clearly.

As well, plenty of times I’ve said something sarcastic in a deadpan, someone took me seriously, and I didn’t correct them — out of laziness, or because I didn’t realize at the time that they hadn’t understood I was joking, or because it was amusing to let them be wrong.  Pleeeeenty of times I’ve said things which, as they came out of my mouth, I realized were dumb, because we all have moments of mouth no make words do what want.  I’ve noticed, at some of these times, people snicker off to the side, but for whatever reason I didn’t correct myself, and so have come across stupid, or naïve, or slow.

And since I have had these experiences, under the Non-Uniqueness Rule, lots of other people have too.  I’m not special.  I actually have no real reason to believe, at any given moment where anyone else is saying something dumb, a) that they aren’t totally aware that they’re saying something dumb and are unable or unwilling to fix it, or b) that I just am not getting their sense of humor or something.

Bush Lol

Or c) that they’re playing dumb for political gain.  No, seriously.
(Of course, intelligence doesn’t preclude you from being a poor speaker.  Or an asshole.)

It’s natural to assume that the way someone communicates is completely intentional on their part and conveys everything about them, but that’s just plain false.  What someone says relates to who they are the way that an ad campaign relates to the product being sold.  This applies to not just intelligence, but also to social understanding, emotional depth, all that kind of stuff.

This is the kind of lesson we teach ourselves in stories all the time, but I don’t think a lot of us really learn it, or apply it.  I think this is, in part, because watching a TV show with a character who is cleverer than they appear, we usually will get to see them reveal their cleverness eventually, making for those dramatic irony situations where we see through the act but the other characters don’t (e.g. Columbo, Borat).  In real life, we only see the stupid surface, so in a way, TV-and-movies teaching us that we’ll eventually get to see the clever side of secretly-clever people makes us less likely to interpret the seemingly-dumb people we meet as secretly-clever.

Is Buffy in or out amongst the cool kids?

“Sometimes when I talk, everyone’s so busy agreeing with me, they don’t hear a word I say.”

I think this is one of those rules that’s really obvious to read or think about, but really hard to keep up with, and I know for sure that I, and lots of other people, violate it every day.  It’s a particularly easy one to drop when interacting with strangers, but, heck, I myself have known people for years who I thought to be kinda dull and shallow, who I suddenly realized one day were actually smarter and deeper than I am.  I do my damndest dammnedest (::Googles it::) damnedest to apply this very, very consciously and deliberately whenever I can remember – and when I have, it’s never once let me down.  Sometimes people are dumb, of course, but it’s almost never harmful to assume they’re smarter until they prove otherwise.

(P.S. No, I don’t know why I formulated this rule as “half again as smart” and not “twice as” or something.  It’s just how it made sense to me.)

So anyway, anyways, reading this postblog uh blog post I mean I thank you I mean thank you for doing it thanks.


One comment

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