Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4:6
Have you noticed that the roads are filled with stupid drivers? Everyone thinks every other driver is stupid. But not us. It’s ‘those people’. What makes people stupid drivers in our eyes? They interfered with us on some level. The same holds true for the above statement in the humorous picture, “The hardest part of my job is being nice to stupid people.” Who are the stupid people? Those who interfere with us on some level. They may be new and don’t know their job well, or have skillsets that don’t match the roles they are put in.
This may seem like a petty rant, but consider the words of Ephesians 4:29
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
The word corrupt means: poor quality, worthless, or rotten. When I call my co-worker a stupid person, am I speaking that which edifies, or that which gives an image of poor quality?
Here is why this is important. First of all, people naturally rise to the level of the expectation put on them. If you expect good and communicate a positive image, people will both knowingly and unknowingly rise to that image of good expectation. Second, the quality of our attitude is either building up morale, or tearing it down. I cannot expect good relationships when I am teaching one person to think poorly of another. My words build expectations. I’m building a good or bad expectation on the person I’m speaking of, and I’m building up or tearing down the expectations of others toward that person.
Shortly after my high school years, I worked in a warehouse. When someone was hired, our manager, Steve, would come back and say, “Paul is doing a good job, isn’t he.” Everyone would immediately think about what Paul might be doing right. Either directly or indirectly, Paul would get the message that he was a positive part of our team. How do you think Paul responded? He felt good about himself, and he rose to a higher level of work ethic to match that expectation.
Steve was promoted, and a new manager took over. We’ll call him, Jeff. Jeff was the opposite of Steve. His attitude was demanding and he was critical of everyone. He was worried that employees might be getting paid for doing less. He would come back and say, “Is Paul going to cut it? If he’s not pulling his weight, we need to get someone who can.”
Everyone would look at Paul with a critical eye to see if he was doing anything wrong. It wasn’t only Paul that was negatively affected. The team soon stopped being a team. Jeff’s critical attitude created critical perceptions and negative expectations. Production dropped, people quit, new hires struggled to find acceptance, and instead of rising up to a higher expectation, people started worrying about whether others were doing less, and one guy said, “Why bother doing anything extra? No one in management will notice anyway.”
It’s hard to be positive when you are already under the weight of failure. When someone expects you to be a failure, it’s hard to prove your worth. People don’t thrive under negative reinforcement.
The label of stupidity is often that weight of failure. How many people are really stupid? If someone is trying to learn, does inexperience mean they are stupid? Does calling people stupid create good peers and working relationships? In reality, the person who thinks others are stupid is putting demands of perfection on others that the demander also cannot achieve. It is a creation of negativity and has no real value.
Building up will cause people to grow, and eliminate many mistakes. Tearing down will not.
Another counter-productive label of stupidity is when we focus on someone’s weaknesses with a critical eye. Let me tell you the story of Mike. When I was working as a technician at an airline, we had a coworker, Mike. Mike was very slow at doing the things his job demanded. People called him incompetent and stupid. I got to know Mike, and he was a very intelligent guy. It was frustrating to wait on Mike, and he was a drain on our team. The problem wasn’t that Mike was stupid or incompetent. The problem was that the role Mike was given wasn’t compatible with his strengths. He was being forced to use his weaknesses to do the job.
Some people wanted him to be fired. Feeling the pressure, Mike started applying for other jobs in the company, and to my surprise, he landed a very good position. In one day, Mike went from incompetent to exceptional. His new job was a perfect fit for his skillset. The detail oriented personality he had was a poor fit for the fast paced environment of our team, but was an asset to his new role.
What we think is incompetence is often our expectation that someone think or act like us, or to expect someone’s weakness to be a strength. The truth is, if I had Mike’s new role, I would look incompetent. If you have to do something that is outside of your abilities, you will look stupid. What we often call stupidity is actually demanding a duck to run like a gazelle, and demanding a gazelle to climb like a monkey. No matter how much you demand the gazelle to climb better, he will still look like a fool trying to do something he was not designed to do. Contrary to the Wizard of Oz, there are no flying monkeys. And he will look very stupid running around the field, flapping his arms and trying to fly. A duck may roll his eyes and say, “Stupid monkey, flying is easy,” but reverse the roles, and the duck will be the one who looks stupid.
There are two conclusions I want you to take from this. First, don’t let anyone tell you that you are an idiot or label you as stupid because you are branching off to learn new skills, or because you are out of your element. The expert of today, was called incompetent and stupid yesterday. Yet how much quicker the newby will grow if watered with encouragement instead of scorn.
Second, shift your expectation from a critical eye, to a positive expectation. Failures of others is not stupidity. Failures and mistakes are the steps that everyone must brave in order to grow. The hardest part of your job is not being nice to stupid people. The hardest job is to maintain a positive attitude toward others when our expectations are not met. You’ll be surprised at how much happier you will be when you stop being critical of others. You’ll also eliminate frustration when, instead of wasting your energy on criticism, you make it your goal to impart your understanding to the person who lacks what you have learned through experience.
The greater stupidity is to complain about someone’s lack of ability and do nothing positive to help them grow, which will soon be a help to you.
Eddie Snipes 2017