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Here is what you can do to lower the chance of doing silly things...

Why does stupidity never rest?

2024 May 28 | by Arduino Mancini Heuristics and biases

Momma says stupid is as stupid does.

This is what used to say Forrest Gump in the homonymous film, meaning by this that stupidity is not so much a people attribute but a characteristic of human behaviour.

In short, even smart people do stupid things: the good news is that they also can benefit from this article and reduce the chance of doing something they will regret in the future.

Let’s get straight to the point.

In other articles on my blog, I have defined foolishness as an

  • action that does not benefit who makes it, but damages both the person involved and other people; one becomes aware of the foolishness done later, when he/she experiences damage and regret takes over.

What are the most common foolishnesses?

The panorama is quite broad, and I will limit it to a few examples:

  • taking health-damaging foods;
  • extramarital affairs;
  • taking drugs;
  • corruption.

What are their common characteristics?

First of all, the time variable, which assumes the shape of a conflict between the satisfaction of an immediate need and medium/long-term interests: gluttony, the immediate satisfaction of a sexual urge, the need to escape from reality or to achieve in the short term our goals leads to akrasia, that is, irrational behaviour contrary to what is thought to be ideal for us.

Foolishness is often done without a conscious effort to recognize the ongoing conflict, and ascertain the potential prevalence of long-term interests with immediate needs.

The second crucial variable is evaluating the risk that nonsense will become harmful to us and others.

This takes two forms:

  • The impact that small transgressions may have on future behaviour: we experience “that” small slice of pie, the occasional betrayal, the “quick fix” to a bureaucratic problem as one-off episodes that will leave no hush-hush, underestimating the possibility that a single gesture, initially lived as unique, maybe the trigger to repeat the mistake. Just for once, anyway.
  • The risk assessment based on memory and experience: so far so good, why should things be different in the future? We underestimate the role that chance plays in our lives and end up thinking that nothing will change.

What to do, then?

Is there a way to reduce the risk of committing foolishness?

I have been thinking about this for long and have identified eight questions you can ask yourself when you feel you are on the verge of committing nonsense.

  1. Is the need you are trying to satisfy right now in your medium/long-term interest?
  2. If the answer to question one, is there a possibility of matching the immediate need with your future interests?
  3. If the answer to question one is negative and you still decide to satisfy the immediate need, are you aware of the risks involved?
  4. If you are experiencing the satisfaction of the immediate need as a one-time episode, are you aware that this could be the trigger to do the same in the future?
  5. Are you trying to justify your behaviour with excuses or alibi? Thoughts such as “everyone does this,” “no one will notice it, “what do you want to happen for once,” and “after all, he deserves it,” represent the prelude to regret.
  6. Are you aware that chance plays a crucial role in our lives, and if you have had no problems so far is no guarantee for the future?
  7. Are you willing to accept the personal consequences of what you are about to do?
  8. Are you willing to accept the consequences that your action will have on the lives of people close to you?

You may have realized from the previous questions that

stupidity never rests and affects every social class, culture,
and people with different educational backgrounds.

Because we tremendously struggle to postpone the satisfaction of immediate needs and to accept our vulnerability to risk and chance.

What do you think?

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