Which is Worse Stupidity or Vanity?

Ink on Banana Paper – Words: Victor Hugo

I have heard people use the word “stupid” several times today. They were describing people, decisions, the media, and usually said it with a hint of disgust in their tone. Stupid is a strong word, a degrading word, it can even shutdown someone’s soul. When I read this quote from Victor Hugo I was reminded that stupidity shows up a great deal in our language and decision making whereas vanity or ego shows up in our actions.

So which is worse, stupidity or vanity? Stupid thoughts, words, and decisions OR actions full of our own self interest? I thought about this a great deal after experiencing other people’s stupid decisions lately and I realized that I can forgive stupid. Stupid can be cured through experience, knowledge and a willingness to change. When someone does something stupid they usually know it, eventually. It is at this point where they have the opportunity to learn and grow beyond this foible, which assumes they are open to doing things differently next time. Sometimes stupidity is a lack of critical thinking, not knowing any better, acting on impulse, or even just plain laziness. When learning occurs stupidity on the topic diminishes.

Vanity seems to be a harder obstacle to overcome. In my experience with people who are vain, they are that way because they have been allowed to be, have achieved something and think they have earned the right, or they have a sense of entitlement from their background. No matter why they are vain, there is usually a lack of self awareness in how their attitude and actions impact others. They just don’t care. When given feedback they walk away dumbfounded as to why that person was talking about them or upset. One sure cure for vanity is perspective, which comes from long and hard experiences outside their comfort zone and beyond their expertise. Manual labor, dire circumstances or even poor living conditions have a way of choking vanity into humility.

Let’s face it, we have all been stupid and vain in our lives. Hopefully we have learned better. Both are common mistakes and curable if we are willing to change and take responsibility for our actions. It is those who do not change, refuse to face reality AND who think they are above all this that are often the topic of discussions like the ones I had today. I of course directed the conversations towards how we can do better, be better, and be aware of how our actions – stupid and vain – impact those around us. I was glad to have this quote under my belt to use to further the discussions…a moment where I neither felt vain or stupid.

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