I developed my Dumbass Theory at a four-way stop. You know the story, everyone takes their turn, depending on which car showed up first. Usually it all goes smoothly, but this was one of those days when That Guy rushes in and takes his turn before me. Hey, I was here first! My irritation flares up. I honk and he doesn’t even look. I spent the next 10 minutes fuming in my head, angry and tight.
Or I’d get so pissed off at that lady who cut me off in traffic that I’d tailgate her for a few blocks. Jerk! I’ll make sure you know what a shitty thing that was to do.
I started being troubled by this mini-road-rage of mine. I had a hard time just letting it go. Why did it bother me so? Why couldn’t I just shrug on move on? I wondered if it could escalate someday into a worse scenario… I didn’t want that.
As I dug around in my psyche, I realized that I was getting triggered because I felt SO disrespected by these other drivers. I took it personally. They had done this to ME. How rude! I’d done nothing to them!
After one of those frustrating 4-way stop incidents, I sifted and ruminated over my feelings and my reaction. How could I change something in this dynamic, for myself? Then I remembered a quote, and my Dumbass Theory was born.
This famous quote is of unknown origin, though it has frequently been misattributed to Napoleon, Robert Heinlein and Goethe (among others). It’s also known as Hanlon’s Razor. This is it:
“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
It seems pretty simple, but it really has helped me on so many occasions. When I think of someone as just being a stupid dumbass (or making a stupid mistake), then I take it less personally — it wasn’t malice, it was stupidity.
These other drivers weren’t disrespecting me, they were being a dumbass. Maybe they didn’t know any better. Maybe they were distracted. Maybe they were bad drivers, or making a bad decision in that moment. It sounds strange, but I started to be able to shrug things off easier when I was able to tell myself that the other driver was simply fucking stupid.
And the thing is, sometimes I am a dumbass. I make mistakes, I don’t always pay close attention like I should, I act impulsively. I’m not disrespecting others, but I can tell when people so easily flip their middle finger these days, they are assuming they’re being disrespected.
My Dumbass Theory extends beyond driving in my life. People are just dumbasses in a myriad number of scenarios, and sometimes I am too. Not that I want to be, but I’m human. And so is everyone else. It works so much better for me if I’m able to let go and move on, recognize that we are all fallible humans. I don’t need to take everything so personally.
Certainly, there are times when people really are disrespecting me or others. I can use my skills and my instinct to determine when that is true, instead of just making up a story about why someone did something.
I know it sounds wacky, but calling other people dumbasses (in my head! not outloud!) really makes me think much more kindly of them. It calms me down, helps me be more generous towards others in allowing for mistakes, and also towards myself in those times when I’m the dumbass. If I have to choose (and some days I have to), I’ll take stupidity over malice any day.
Photos by Kevin Lee and John Schnobrich, courtesy of Unsplash.com