I want to talk about a couple of pet peeves today: “Why don’t you just…” and “That’s stupid.” Both have been grating my nerves lately, for similar reasons.
“Why don’t you just” assumes that the solution to someone’s problem is simple. Common sense, you’d say. But if it were that simple, the person likely would have thought of it themselves. I remember hearing a former coworker — married, with a nearly grown only child — say to a chronically late single mom of a teen and a toddler that she ought to just try to get to work 5 minutes early. Easy enough when you live 10 minutes from work, have half as many children, and have help getting said child out the door, I suppose. When you are trying to get two kids and yourself out the door and work is 40 minutes away, it isn’t so easy.
“Why don’t you just” assumes that the other person is on a level playing field. That you know what they are dealing with. But you don’t. If you must offer advice, try saying “Have you tried,” or “What works for me is” or “What is your biggest challenge with this issue?” And listen to the answer. You might learn something.
“That’s just stupid.” We all say this at times. And sometimes it is stupid. I think my daughter’s school attendance policy, which has them urging parents not to send a kid to school with a fever but then threatening to penalize the parents for truancy when the kid misses a preset amount of school, is seriously stupid. I know school officials are doing what they are told, so I bite my tongue, but insisting that kids toe an attendance line in the middle of a lethal flu epidemic is stupid. There is no other word for it.
But I hear this word used in other instances. And almost always the underlying reason behind the declaration is that the person doesn’t understand the situation. Recently a kerfuffle arose on a neighborhood group: A man posted a video of a guy he was convinced was casing his house, and refused to give up on that assumption even as others pointed out that the guy seemed to be a lawn mower looking for work. The original poster seemed to be basing his assumption on the fact that the guy was black and wearing sweatpants and a hoodie — if he were a legitimate landscaper, he would have dressed nicely. Wearing sweatpants was “just stupid.”
Well, what do you wear to mow the lawn?
I mean, maybe he was right. Maybe the guy was up to no good. I don’t know. But my point is, neither did the poster. He just made an assumption and posted a video of the guy without finding out the facts.
As with many things, my attention was called to “Why don’t you just” and “That’s stupid” when they came out of the mouths of my children. The lack of knowledge behind them is apparent when an 8-year-old says “Why don’t you just,” or when a 5-year-old says “That’s stupid.” These phrases fill that knowledge gap with judgment instead of knowledge and understanding.
Whenever I hear them say something is stupid, I ask “I wonder why?” If my daughter’s classmate does something she feels is stupid, like acting out in class to the point of punishment, we brainstorm reasons why the child may have behaved in that way. And we always come up with at least one reason. Maybe the child feels sick and is grumpy. Maybe the child needs attention, and bad is better than none. Maybe the child for whatever reason has a hard time behaving as expected.
“Why don’t you just” and “That’s stupid” are just ways of saying “I don’t understand.” So instead of snapping to judgment, I am trying to teach them — us — to admit the lack of understanding and probe further.