A few evenings ago I was watching a baseball game on television. Not being a big fan of commercials I decided during a break to see what else was on. Scrolling through the guide I saw that America’s Got Talent was on. I could not remember the last time I had seen the show, and I do not think I have ever seen a full episode, but I thought, “Maybe there will be some decent talent on there.” So I pushed the button and switched the channel. The first thing I saw was an older woman–I think she said she was 78–about to do some power lifting. I think she lifted 185 pounds or so. That was impressive, but not particularly exciting. I have never seen a senior citizen lift that kind of weight so, sure, it got my attention. The judges had a similar reaction; they were impressed, and told her so, but they did not vote to move her on.
Next came another older man. I do not remember how old he was but he said he was a grandfather. He was a former real estate agent who said he decided a few years ago that he was tired of selling real estate and wanted to do what he was really passionate about–extreme stunts. Whether he had ever done any extreme stunts before quitting real estate I do not know for sure, but I got the impression he had not. Now he does things that most people with common sense would never attempt. So foolish, in fact, are his shenanigans that he said his wife will not watch him perform. He strode onto the stage carrying a chain saw. When Howie Mandel asked him how long he had been doing extreme stunts he did not really answer; he just said, “For this one, this will be the first time.” “How dangerous is it?” Madel asked him. “I could die,” came the response. Thus, before he had even done a single thing, he had everyone’s attention.
He proceeded to start the chain saw, set it on the ground, and then walk on his hands directly over top of the chain saw–meaning, of course, that his face was just a few inches from the whirring blade. This got some gasps and looks of astonishment, but the dude was nowhere near finished. Next he picked up an apple, bit into it so that it was mostly protruding from his mouth and put on a blindfold. He then picked up the chainsaw and proceeded to cut the apple in half with the chain saw–again, obviously, bringing the moving blade within a coupe of inches of his face. Heidi Klum was aghast. Mel B almost immediately said no, he was not getting her vote. But Howard Stern and Howie Mandel both said yes, they were intrigued and wanted to see more. With the crowd cheering wildly and Mandel and Stern pressuring her, Klum yielded and gave her assent. The man who called himself The Grandpa Show was moving on past the audition round. As I flipped back to the baseball game I thought, “How incredibly stupid!”
Stupid is something that has always irritated me. When I was a rookie teacher the student council at the school where I taught asked each teacher to complete a questionnaire for some activity they had planned. One of the questions was, “What irritates you more than anything else?” Truth be told, there are quite a few things that irritate me. Once I heard myself saying, “Nothing irritates me more than…” and then realized that, whatever it was that came next was probably at least the fifth or sixth thing I had inserted into that blank. Hmmm… To this question, though, I responded, “Stupidity – which I define as refusing to use the intelligence that you have.” That has been my answer ever since whenever I am asked that question. I just find it irritating, aggravating and frustrating when someone knows better and chooses to do something stupid anyway. Something like passing a running chain saw within a couple of inches of one’s face while blindfolded. Thinking about it a bit more I was struck by how many times people will cheer for stupidity. The crowd was going wild for the chainsaw wielding grandpa, after all. No doubt you can think of examples, too, of when you saw others–or you yourself–cheered for something that was just plan inexcusable. I remember attending a professional baseball game once when some idiot climbed up the foul pole. We was probably drunk, and I am sure he spent the night in jail, but dozens, if not hundreds, of people were cheering him on. Once in while someone will go too far and we will, collectively, call them on it–think Michael Jackson holding his child over the railing of a hotel balcony–but more often than not many of us are more than happy to cheer on stupidity.
Further thought brought to a few more conclusions, too. First, we tend to cheer on behavior that we ourselves would never engage in. Perhaps that is why it excites us. Second, we tend to blur the line between stupidity and skill, or stupidity and courage, by classifying them based on the results. Had The Grandpa Show miscalculated and sliced the front of his face off I doubt anyone would have been cheering. “What an idiot!” would have been the more likely result. “What was he thinking?” would no doubt have been uttered frequently. And, no doubt, “Why would they even let him do that?” would have been asked of America’s Got Talent by more than a few people. Yet, since he pulled it off, the majority of the crowd and three-fourths of the judges said they want to see him do more stupid stuff–and you know he will have to continually up the stakes. Using a chain saw to slice an apple you are holding in your mouth, by the way, is not talent. When performed successfully it may demonstrate a certain amount of skill and precision, but it is not talent. It is not a natural ability or an aptitude grandpa was born with. (Neither, by the way, was grandma’s power lifting).
Most of us are bright enough to use the intelligence we have and refrain from doing things as stupid as slicing apples in our mouths with chain saws. Many of us, however, do like to walk that fine line in other areas of our lives. Convincing us that we won’t get hurt is one of Satan’s great strategies. We like the thrill and the rush that comes from doing things we know we probably should not do when we actually pull them off or get away with them. We know the risks are real, but we choose to think they do not apply to us. If grandpa slices apples with chainsaws every day and never gets hurt does that mean it is a good idea? No. Does it mean we should all try it? Certainly not. No doubt, however, many people will continue to cheer loud and long for such stupidity.
Believe it or not, the Bible has a a fair amount to say about stupidity. Depending on your translation, the word “stupid” may not appear, or not appear much, but the principles are there. Stupid people are those, biblically speaking, who resist instruction. Those who seem to know everything themselves, have it all figured out not need any advice or direction from anyone else. These are the people who only learn, if ever, the “hard way.” Job 11:12, after all, says, “But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!” (ESV). This of course, will never happen; rather like the Job-era equivalent of saying “when pigs fly.” Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” This one is tricky. None of us want to be called stupid, but few of us like reproof. Why? More than likely because we are proud. Reproof, however, when properly motivated and delivered, is for our own good. Reproof, by the way, is telling someone who is slicing apples in their mouth with a chainsaw that it’s really not a good idea, not cheering for them.
Those of us who tend to frown on stupidity can be ostracized at times. We may be called sticks in the mud, party poopers, old fashioned or even puritanical. Don’t worry about it. There is an adage that fits here quite well: “Better safe than sorry.” Yes, maybe some of us need to lighten up sometimes and get a little silly, but there is a still a definite line we must not cross. Fun and silliness must never become stupidity. And when you do see it on display, for goodness sake, don’t cheer for stupid!