AUSTEN’S RULE OF LIFE #5: PLEASE DON’T VIOLATE THE ‘DON’T BE STUPID’ POLICY

When I was working back at KTKA-TV 49 in Topeka, Kansas, the newsroom had interconnected computers that enabled different users at different desks to send instant messages, typed scripts, etc. to each other. We were also able to create common files that we could all contribute to. One of the main things we typed together were Top Ten Lists. Lots of them. (Yes, it’s not all business when it comes to television news. Occasionally, you have to sit back and laugh a bit.) One of the lists that got created was Top Ten Reasons The Castaways of Gilligan’s Island Should Have Killed Gilligan. The Number One answer was: “He was STUPID! Jeez Louise, he was stupid!!!!” #CantArgueWithThat 

Let’s face it: there’s an awful lot of stupid out there. Hoo-boy, there’s a lot of stupid… 

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About 7 AM most Monday through Friday mornings, Drake Hall and Zeke Logan on 98.1 The Max in Memphis run down the latest and greatest (well…. sort of) of the dumbest of the dumb, in an entire segment dedicated to the “Dumbasses of the Day” or “The Daily Dumbass” part of the show. Some of the entries make you shake your head, some make you laugh uncontrollably, some make you cringe and lock your knees together (as in: yeesh! seriously!?) at what human beings are capable of. I find it interesting to try to figure out in advance if an entry will end with the described stupid person’s demise or not. Wherever Drake and Zeke keep getting these stories from, they don’t seem like they’ll be running out of them any time soon. Sadly. 

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You’ve done it. I’ve done it. It’s easy. Why? We’re human. We’ve seen it happen all over the place. People who cook oatmeal while smoking and talking on their phones in the middle of rush hour traffic. People who antagonize the gorilla at the zoo from a few inches away. People who eat a large spoonful of cinnamon. People who wind up on America’s Funniest Videos or Tosh.0 after doing something not quite so smart… and for that: we thank you. 

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Make no mistake: I’m not talking down about people, or talking trash on people’s misfortune. I don’t do that. I try to be as good as possible when it comes to hoping and helping. I got made fun of enough in my life. Big, fat glasses and rather – shall we say – awkwardly dressed at times, I wasn’t always the incredibly handsome and suave person that I am now. Times change, experiences accumulate, and I have done what I can to make things better, being kinder than necessary to myself and everyone around me. I’ve learned from my mistakes (mostly). The trouble is: I keep making new ones. Lots of them. Oy. 

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I’ve walked into street signs before. Lots of them. Sometimes cute girls walking the other way were the culprit, sometimes not. I’ve missed the last step at the bottom of staircases. I’ve recorded the wrong programs and missed appointments. I’ve read the wrong schedule and gotten to work late. Laughed at the wrong jokes, tripped over my own feet, filled out the wrong forms, gotten lost, forgotten important dates, put the wrong numbers in the wrong column, overreacted when I shouldn’t have, let the dog eat my homework (It happened! that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) and various other things much too embarrassing to mention. 

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(If there would be a soundtrack song that should play when I mess up, this would be it.)

I’m human. I can’t count the number of forecasts that have busted. I can keep trying to improve myself. Giving up is not an option. I have to keep trying to make myself better and avoid making the bigger mistakes if possible. Doesn’t always succeed, mind you. Can’t stop giving it my best shot.

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When I give presentations at the Memphis Pink Palace in “The Magic of Science” program or our Physical Science laboratory, I have a part of the presentations that depend on using dry ice. If you’ve never worked with dry ice before, its really (pardon the pun) cool stuff. One of the things I warn the students about scientific ignorance. The people who put videos on YouTube showing their versions of dry ice bombs (hot water + dry ice in a closed container = illegal explosive device) don’t always end well. To that end, I take a small plastic coffee container with a non-screwtop lid and mix dry ice and hot water. The lid flies off after a few seconds in an arc that, when you mentally stretch that out, is about ten feet long. That’s a lot of power in a small amount of stuff. I remind the kids that being a scientist includes the idea of responsibility and ethical behavior. Mistakes? They happen. Sometimes with a tragic end. On the other hand, being willfully ignorant – especially when the stakes are high – is something that I will never be able to comprehend. 

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I often look at life with a bent eye, seeing the sheer inanity of a lot of people’s actions, mainly because you have the choice to look at life and laugh, or look at life and cry. I always hope for the best, but am often disappointed by people and their actions. But, I always do hope that things could be better. Most of the time, when I hear the phrase: “Hey, dude… watch this!” I automatically have a sense of either “duck and cover” or “basically… run” take over very quickly. 

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Some of what I’ve learned over the years is to be kind to yourself and everyone else. My beautiful and smart science teacher wife (who has had to put up with a lot of my brain-misgivings over the years) is a forgiving type, especially dealing with me and my oops-moments. When you screw up, and you will, be kind and give yourself a break. I’ve seen too many people beat them up over a failure to the point of near-depression and heartache (and various other stomach ailments) to boot. I’ve also seen a lot of people get way overheated about other people’s mistakes to the point of near stupidity on their own. The sheer amount of vitriolic overkill that some people indulge in is scary when you witness it. 

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So, when you do something oops-identally, or see someone else doing it, give you/them a break, and quit being such a hard-liner against them, remembering that you are just as human as they are. 

On the other hand, remember well that the alligator doesn’t want your head in its mouth, cinnamon is meant to be used in small doses only, tap dancing through minefields is not macho, doing something just because someone called you chicken is a ridiculous reason to do that said something (even with the triple-dog-dare attached to it), the gorilla is much bigger and stronger than you are, and if you go around acting like a butthead to the police or sheriff officers that pulled you over for speeding, you probably deserve to go to jail for a few days.

Dumbass. 

Let’s all try to do our best to not violate the “Don’t Be Stupid” policy. And put down that cinnamon. 

AO 

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