Stupid is forever, ignorance can be fixed

Many years ago, one of my first mentors had the above saying posted in a prominent position on the wall of his office. He was an on-the-job trainer and very good at his job. Hundreds of trainees passed through his store and every one of them left his program better for the experience. I was one of those trainees and I can attest to his knowledge, his humor and his genuine concern for the success of his students. I also remember being a tad offended by the motto he had hung on his wall, but 30 years later and many of my own trainees behind me, I must admit that this philosophy is indeed very accurate.

As an adult educator, I have had the wonderful experience of teaching hundreds of classes to thousands of trainees around the country. I have trained in corporate classrooms, hotel ballrooms, impressive learning centers and rooms so small that they barely held all of my students. I have trained people how to be better managers, improve the quality of their work, book travel online and even learn how to build a better paper airplane. What I have not been able to accomplish, however, is to increase a person’s IQ. What they bring to my classroom, they also leave with.

I have, however, been very successful training people how to do new things. I have taught people how to conduct a work improvement discussion, provide better feedback to their employees, complete a form properly in order to be reimbursed for medical care and how to survive if they were ever marooned on a desert island. (Really, this was one of my team building activities.) I can also prove that these folks learned, because in almost every class I ever trained, I had my students complete both an evaluation and a form telling me how much they liked my training. Both of these types of evaluations convinced both my manager and myself that I was successful at training folks how to be better at their jobs. Just refer to those two evaluations.

What I have never been able to accomplish in any of those classes, however, is to make even one of those students smarter, as measured by standard IQ testing. That seems to be a part of our genetics. As Forest Gump’s mother famously stated in the movie of the same name, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Unfortunately, that statement does appear to be true. The good news is that we are not condemned to failure merely because we happen to have a “stupid gene.” The entire Forest Gump movie proves that. (I suspect my old mentor was cheering when he first watched that movie.) What it does indicate, however, is that you need to find the perfect job or talent for your abilities.

Over the course of my 30 plus years in the field of Adult Education, I have witnessed hundreds of people who were misplaced or toiling in the wrong profession. I know, because they told me so, or their manager has called me aside and informed me of that fact. I was very successful teaching them how to perform the skills that I was training in my class, but I was always unsuccessful making them understand why they were doing what they were doing or making them care that it mattered. Either they were unmotivated or simply unable to grasp the complexities of everything they needed to do. Most of them considered themselves to be unmotivated, as did most of their managers. However, looking back through the many classes I have facilitated, I also believe that many of them were simply not capable of mastering the material that was being presented.

This does not make them bad people and I certainly hope that it does not make me a bad teacher.  I believe that we are all stupid to some degree with a lot of things. I, for example, am very stupid at automotive repair. I have learned throughout the years, that I should not even attempt to repair my vehicle, since it has always resulted in very bad things happening to both me and my car. No matter how hard a trainer might try to teach me how to rebuild my engine, I am confident that I would be ultimately classified as a total failure at automotive repair. It just would not work. I could be taught how to no longer be ignorant of car engines, but, without a doubt, I would forever be stupid at fixing my own car’s engine.

The key, then, is as the Greeks told us centuries ago, is to “Know thyself.”  Understand what you are good at and what you fail at every time. That is not to say that you could not become better at what you want to do if you really want to improve. What I am saying is that you will never be able to known as the world’s fastest human if you run out of steam walking up the stairs. A better choice of careers might be your smartest decision.

Ignorance can be fixed by better education and training. Stupid is forever, but fortunately, none of us is stupid at everything. Discover what you are really good at, learn all you can about it and then do it better than anyone has ever done it before. That is possible for everyone and it is possible for you today. Fix your ignorance of a subject and discover what you can truly master. Stupid may be forever, but you do not have to be ignorant.



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