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Q&A: Why do we do stupid things?

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” -Mark Twain

The reason we do stupid things is simple: we don’t know any better. This in itself is incredibly stupid, because often, we actually do know better, and yet, we still do stupid things. “Knowing” is a funny thing.

The number of stupid things that we do in a day, in fact, is astounding. We are constantly making bad choices and, most of the time, we are aware of it and taking note of how stupid we are. The way we take note of it can be very subtle, so that we barely even notice the chronic but persistent throb of self-criticism, self-doubt and second-guessing that comes with doing stupid things.

Why don’t we know any better how to be less stupid? We have so much knowledge about how to be smart — how not to eat too much, or not treat our bodies badly, save more money, be more patient, more neat and organized, less sloppy…it’s an interminable list.

What is it about “knowing” that makes so little impact on our ability to stop doing stupid things?

There is a ton of neuroscience and philosophy behind “knowing” that explains why it has so little impact on our being less stupid. But this way of knowing in itself doesn’t give you a real leg up on being less stupid. What does?

Experience. Experience teaches us how to know with our hearts. That is the kind of knowledge that can guide us.

Unfortunately, we can’t always know with our hearts. Which means we will have to keep doing stupid things, or feeling stupid. Perhaps, a way to be less stupid is to know that our relentless stupidity must not be allowed to corrode us. It is, after all, just a throb in our minds. Perhaps better left alone, waiting for the rare occasion when it can do us some good.

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