Recognizing You’re Stupid is the Key to a Great Relationship

Intellectual superiority will turn any relationship toxic. This is why being stupid leads to fruitful relationships.

Your relationship will fail if you view yourself as smarter than your partner.

In this dynamic, your partner shrinks against your perceived intellectual superiority. I’m sure most of us with our egos know what this feels like. I’ve certainly struggled on both sides of this dynamic.

Falling in love with your knowledge is all too common in a world where information is rich. I’ve certainly felt this when perceiving myself to know more than thou about topics I am interested in. I am quickly brought back to Earth when I realize that the only thing separating me from others (who have other forms of expertise) is that I sought this knowledge while they looked for information that sparked THEIR interests.

It’s natural to want to share what sparks your curiosity. It’s a different matter when you share for the sole purpose of being perceived as smart.

Relationships are a balance.

Adopting this attitude of intellectual superiority throws all relationships out of whack.

This post is about cultivating stupidity in a relationship because ironically, it is the smartest thing you could do for it to thrive.

But first, let’s dive into the Book of Job in the Bible.

I want to show you how much God hates this intellectual pride.

The Book of Job: A Warning Against Pride

God wanted to test Job’s righteousness. He had everything and then God took it away. Job was left distraught and sought counsel from his friends.

His friends, suffering from intellectual pride, jammed judgment down Job’s throat and made his condition worse.

His wife even told him to “curse God and die.”

But through it all Job never gave up and God rewarded him with a happily ever after.

That’s a hyper-condensed summary of a book rich with nuanced meaning.

One such nuance is that God was angry at Job’s friends because of their intellectual pride.

Before God expressed anger towards them, he prefaces it with how feeble and conceptually limited humans are compared to the almighty. Job was guilty of intellectual pride. He questioned God and his motives against the righteous. At the end, Job accepted his lowly position with humility. God then went on to humble Job’s friends who appeared to be all-knowing when giving Job advice he didn’t ask for.

The punchline was that God would only reward Job if he prayed for and forgave his friends. He did and his life was restored.

In an increasingly polarized world, many quickly dismiss the wits of others who express a different view. If the book of Job teaches us one thing it is to recognize that people are ignorant and forgive them for jamming their convoluted opinions down your throat. Conversely, we can accept our ignorance and refrain from doing the same thing to others.

Compared to an all-knowing entity we call God, we are stupid.

Accepting this mindset is one of the smartest things you can do for your relationships.

If you’re struggling to accept this, perhaps this fundamental error we all make will convince you.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

I text someone, they take forever to reply, and then by hour 2 or 3 my mind tells me reasons for the delay. It convinces me that they’re dishonest, flaky, and probably conclude that I’m unimportant to them.

The fundamental attribution error is perceiving an event and attributing a negative frame of reference for the reason it has occurred. If it’s someone’s actions the fundamental attribution error tells you it was because of a defect in their character. This response is dubbed fundamental because it was evolutionarily selected for us to be on the lookout for threats around us.

We assume negativity in an otherwise neutral situation.

But most of the time, we’re dead wrong.

A skill I am working on is to challenge these assumptions with rationality. This is key because as psychologists John Tierney and Roy Baumeister state in their book The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It:

“Avoiding bad is far more important than doing good when you’re dealing with lovers, children, friends, colleagues, or anyone else. It’s not so much what you do unto others. It’s what you don’t do.”

There is no telling how many relationships have failed because of the fundamental attribution error going unchecked. When this happens, the relationship enters a negative spiral of unwarranted accusations followed by arguments charged with biased neuroticism.

This is one bias that makes us stupid.

One out of 100 times this bias may serve us to avoid a real threat.

The other 99 times is like the boy who cried wolf.

Stop Being Stupid

Cognitive behavioural therapy is how our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours intertwine. The therapeutic component lies in using our rational minds to think beyond our ingrained biases and learned, yet maladaptive, responses. Because our logical thoughts tend to justify our emotions after we’ve experienced them, much of our consciousness is biased by our emotions.

A tenet of ancient Greek philosophy is to know thyself.

It isn’t to know others – because you’re not them.

Relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. The minute you enter a relationship perched on an ignorant feeling of moral superiority, it ceases to be a relationship. Like Job’s friends, God hates it when humans think they have the right to morally judge another’s character. I believe there is such a thing as right and wrong, but we are in no position to judge.

However, our natural tendency to judge is ingrained in our tendency to engage the fundamental attribution error. There’s no escaping this. But we can, however, check ourselves and humbly accept that judgement is reserved for God.

We are part of the all-knowing and all-powerful but we are its subordinates. But as the hands and feet of this power, we are called to two things:

  1. To love God
  2. To love others

One of the best things you can do to fulfill this wish is to be stupid.

“Love to faults is always blind.”

William Blake

    Love always has the power to conquer the negativity bias!

    It does this by making us stupid.

    How humbling!


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