Why do smart people do stupid things?
It never stops. We are shocked or outraged to discover that someone we respected who “should have known better” engaged in stupid, self-destructive, dysfunctional behavior that was bound to be revealed. And we ask ourselves, once it is revealed, “What was he/she thinking?”
I’d say it’s not so much what the person was thinking, but how they were holding and using their thoughts. What prevented them from just ignoring stupid ideas and letting them go? What made really bad ideas so compelling? Why couldn’t they sort the ridiculous from the sublime and make the choice to turn their backs on the ridiculous? How well do all of us deal with day-to-day situations that could lead to embarrassment, regret, ridicule, or consequences far worse?
We can chalk it all up to insecurity. What’s that? That is a state of mind in which people are consumed with thoughts about themselves: Am I OK? Am I what I want to be? Am I what I expected to be? What does everyone think of me? Who is noticing me? Am I important enough? How do I look? Am I good enough? Caught up in the maelstrom of insecure thinking, we start to spiral down and we ache for relief from the pressure of our doubts, anxieties, and worries about ourselves. So we do whatever occurs to us in that increasingly self-absorbed state of mind to get attention, to get reassurance, to get a sense of control, to get a momentary feeling that we’re really sufficient and really good and really not vulnerable — or to create enough pain for ourselves that we are distracted from our psychological distress. Not knowing the real source of that distress, we try to fix it from the outside in. Since the fixes don’t create a permanent shift in our being, our state of mind, but only provide fleeting, temporary relief, we try harder, indulging in ever more bizarre and disastrous activities, still grasping for that magic ring that will at last make us free and at peace.
It’s not “out there.” The wilder and more outrageous the activities we indulge in without real relief, the more frantic we get. We inadvertently become the train wreck we were trying to avoid.
No one tells us that we’re rushing headlong in the wrong direction once we fall into the cycle of insecurity. And we probably couldn’t listen if they tried. Alienation is a hallmark of insecurity, the sense that most people don’t understand us and we’re isolated by our pain and need. Desperately insecure people have many acquaintances and few friends because a person wrapped up in a constant flood of thoughts about himself can’t connect easily to others. And, to be honest, such a person is not likeable in that state, either. Others don’t try very hard to break through to them.
When we get insecure, we look outside for the cause, and we look outside for the cure. Something “made” us feel bad, and if that something is beyond our control, then we start searching for something else to “make” us feel better.
Sadly, the reaction to inexplicably destructive behavior — whether on a grand scale such as the public arena or a small scale such as a family or workplace — normally feeds the insecurity, rather than ameliorating it. An already insecure, frightened person, found out, becomes more insecure and frightened, and then others pile on: How could you? You’re awful! How dare you? Blame and judgment and derision heaped onto a wounded psyche is like ammonia poured on a wound. Punishment does not cure insecurity.
It’s hard for a culture accustomed to looking outside for answers to consider that the answers may all be inside, and may originate in quietude, love and understanding. When things are in turmoil, it’s even harder for an outside-in culture to see that quietude, love and understanding are always accessible, innate , close at hand.
It takes an insight in a moment of quiet to see that nothing can “make” us feel bad, and nothing can “make” us feel better. We feel as bad as our thinking leads us to feel; and we feel better as soon as we see that thinking for what it is, our darkest imagination unchecked. Love and understanding provide the context for that moment of insight.
We all do stupid things when our thoughts start to race around the track of insecurity. And we all become wise and insightful when our heads clear, our minds quiet, and we regain our bearings. What does it take to get to that point, which is actually a natural state for people? It takes the simple realization that when our feeling state deteriorates, it’s a really bad idea to take our thinking seriously. Our feelings are the navigation system that can lead us back to peace of mind.
As soon as we start feeling muddled, confused, upset, anxious, stressed, upset … you know all the words … we are at a crossroads. Those feelings are like the signpost. If we take the direction of delving deeper into our negative thinking and taking it to heart, the road leads to pain and ultimately disaster. If we take the direction of turning away from those thoughts and feelings with the intent to quiet down and allow our minds to settle, the road leads to insight and peace of mind.
I’ve never known anyone in a truly peaceful state of mind who would or could harm themselves or others.