Darwin Awards… Maybe We are Stupid Too.

For numerous years the Darwin Awards have documented the amazing stupidity of some people. I know many people who like to read these stories and laugh and cry at the sheer stupidity reported. Why do so many of us seem to like the Darwin Awards? I wonder if it lets us feel a bit smug, a bit arrogant, a “I  know I am better than those idiots.  Yes, that’s a pretty low bar, but I know I would never be that stupid.”

I have been wondering if we should offer some sort of new award. One that we all qualify for. I am not sure what to call it.  Maybe “I’m with stupid, because I can’t get away from myself.” What got me thinking about this was seeing a post by an old acquaintance warning that cops in a local county were ticketing people for not wearing seat belts. My reaction was “Who is so stupid that they don’t wear a seat belt? Don’t they know that seat belts save countless lives?” Alright, not countless, the upper bound is around 12,000 people/year in the US plus much larger number that would have been spared injuries.  I posted a snarky response.

I was tempted to pile on even more, noting that failing to wear a seat belt is almost as stupid as smoking cigarettes which would be a double slam since several people on the thread smoke. I could justify commenting on smoking because the data about negative consequences from smoking is clear and staggering. Before I added this comment,  heap even more judgement on, God prodded me, pointing out that not only was I being arrogant and judgmental, but that I am no smarter.

I regularly do things I know are stupid.  I wish it wasn’t true,  but I can be just as stupid and irrational as the next guy. I have just been lucky that my stupidity hasn’t ended my life, gotten me a ticket, or resulted in some chronic condition… yet, I think. So what stopped me dead in my tracks? What did God whisper in my ear?  “Yeah, you would never do something stupid like that.  You wouldn’t let your weight get to an unhealthy level or let your life get so sedentary that basic exercise wipes you out.  Need I continue?”  No need. I am perfectly capable of making a fairly long list now that I have gotten started. The next that came to my mind “I won’t be so stupid to put off going to the dentist when I have a simple cavity which would be a minor pain. I would rather wait a year or so until I have a killer tooth ache, I have to go in and have an emergency root canal which is an order of magnitude more money and pain.”  I could go on, but you get the point.  Hmm… I can be pretty stupid.

Recently I have enjoyed sharing a fascinating study that has been repeatedly performed with identical results. That giving money away often makes people happier than spending it on themselves. The punchline that I love is that after at least one of these studies, the participants were gathered together at the end of the day. The results were shared. People told stories from their day which confirmed the results. Just before leaving, the participants where asked the question “If you could choose which group  you would be placed in, which would it be?”  78% said, “The group that can spend them money on themselves.” My immediate reaction to this is “How could they be so stupid? They just participated in a study that demonstrated that they would be happier if they gave the money way!!” And yet, how often do I do something equality stupid… where I have data, facts, truths, that I know are correct, but I take actions that are contrary to them. My daughter sometimes says “I am not so smart”, typically just after she found herself doing something that she knew wasn’t going to work. I often say “What am I going to do with you?” and then I try to comfort her and remind her that I will always love her, no matter what stupid thing she does. But I could just as easily be saying “I don’t know what to do with me” because I regularly do things I know are stupid, just like my daughter. I am just better at hiding them than she is.  There are a number of  books that explore the dynamic of how people find themselves doing things that they know are stupid or wrong such as Mistakes Were Made and Vital Lies, Simple Truths.

So what do we do?  How do we see our own self deception and stop it. Well, knowing it is there, and having the humility to admit it may be good, but that doesn’t fix the problem. Do we spend a bunch of time introspecting?  I don’t think that works too well. Jeremiah 17:9 states that “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?“. This suggests that self examination is likely to have limited success.

Jeremiah suggests there is an answer in the following verse:  “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” My first observation is that God does understand what’s going on. It is possible for Him to reveal the truth to us. In Philippians 3 Paul encourages his readers to press forward  in view of God’s love. And then there is this short phrase, “and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you“. Paul has confidence, that if there is a problem, God will bring up it. Thankfully, it seems he brings our attention to the most important things, not everything. A good friend is fond of saying that she is never surprised when sin in her life is pointed out. What surprises her is how little is pointed out… that God is gracious with us and only bring up things that need attention now, rather than crushing us with a complete and full understanding of our sin.
So, how does God reveal a different attitude? Sometimes it’s something dramatic like a vision or a dream. Sometimes, it’s like a breeze, whispering in our ear. Maybe a particular verse in the Bible comes to mind and we realize it’s talking about us rather than someone else. Maybe it’s when we stop and look at what we actually have done and the results from those actions. I am amazing how easy it is to repeat actions that consistently don’t produce the result we hope for, yet we continue doing the same thing, with an irrational hope that somehow it will go better the next time.

Most often though, I think we hear God’s voice through our  community and friends. From people who seek and speak truth. The more we embrace community and transparency, the more likely it is that we will get the help we need. We need people who will speak into our lives. It’s too easy for us to blind ourselves to the truth. And the scary thing is that once we start to deceive ourselves,  ignoring what we know to be true, all too often we do this more and more. A little step, at little step, and eventually we find ourselves completely lost. The first chapter of the book of Romans talks about a slide into insanity which starts simply be refusing to be grateful.

The scripture is filled with passages that talk about how if we don’t use what is given, that not only do we not get more, but we often lose what we already have.  I have seen this happen in many people’s lives. Several months ago I was talking with a friend who was just waking up after a couple of years of profound self deception. During this time he had engaged in conduct that he, and everyone who knows him was shocked by. He imperiled everything that he thought was valuable. What shocked me more than the depths he had fallen into was how he had completely lost track of some very basic truths. Things I had seen him live out, things I had seen him teach others. Yet, as I was talking to him one evening, stating things I had heard him say in the past, he was surprised. He said “I have never thought about it that way before.” WRONG!  He had. But he had forgotten. What was going on? He didn’t use it, so he lost it. What he had was taken away. Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Over the next several weeks he continued to seek others input, to seek God’s face. Several weeks later I saw the beginnings of a changed man. Someone who had a long road ahead of him, but a road that would not just restore him to the place he was before his fall, but ultimately would take him to a place of deeper understanding and maturity. There are profound, very painful consequences from what this man did. I have no idea what the full ramifications will be in this life, but I am confident that in the end of time, God will bring healing and comfort to all effected. That every tear will be dried.

One of the things I noticed in this man’s life, and in mine as well… that when were we are actively involved in a community with others who are committed to transparency and speaking truth, that we did better. That those first, small steps  away from truth were often adverted when the correction was relatively easy, and the consequences were slight. A very good reason to cherish and cultivate relationships with people who are committed to truth, to honestly, and have the courage to speak lovingly into our lives. This has also been a good reminder that it’s important to be willing to initiate those uncomfortable conversations if we see  those who are dear to us are starting down a path that won’t end well.

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

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