Being Stupid

A week ago, I emerged from the woods with nails black from dirt, hair molded with grease, and heart warm and fuzzy. Throughout the six-day pre-orientation outdoor trip for incoming Harvard students, my co-leader and I watched with nervous excitement as our ten freshmen gradually opened up to the magic of the backcountry. Deep in the Appalachian Trail with no one else but occasional hikers with long beards, they constructed and tended to a world of their own, held together by the shared vulnerability in showing what we leaders like to call their “authentic selves.”

We were all “stupid,” one might say, in sharing pieces of ourselves with each other. In the midst of our dependence on each other for basic emotional and physical human necessities (eating, sleeping, and fellowship, to name a few), there was no space for calculations, logic, or common sense in befriending one another. Towards the end of the trip, my co-leader and I sat down with each of our freshmen for an individual check-in, during which we encouraged them to transfer the human warmth, kindness, and self-reflection that they so embodied in the backcountry to their new home in the frontcountry.


While a touch of basic human love would be for the better of most places in the world, we are also in need of a lot of stupidity, especially right now. Recently there have been numerous moments in which it has felt like the world’s entropy decided to reveal itself all at once. Over the past few months, people have died in astonishing numbers in Iraq, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, South Korea, and even on commercial airplanes, some in brutal wars and some in tragic accidents. Equally as astonishing, however, has been the number of people that have continued to play smart in the political game in the aftermath of such human suffering. I write as South Korean parliamentarians perpetuate a disgraceful deadlock over a bill that establishes a simple civilian investigatory taskforce behind the Sewol ferry disaster. Simultaneously, op-eds on whether the American intervention in Iraq was warranted continue to saturate the national media daily, detaching our hearts from the tears and pains of fellow human beings on the ground. Many of these debates have perpetuated “politics” in the most systematic and methodical sense of the word, without taking a single pause to smell the somber air and take it for what it is.

I am a political science student. It pains me, in part, to write this article because I am hypocritical in criticizing and dehumanizing the workings of the very system that I have come to respect. We have been taught to believe that politics, whether the brand preferred by the domestic junkie or by the international relations expert, is not a fuzzy—or, as one might say, naïve—thing. Those who wish to pursue a career in government should feel proud and fulfilled for their dedication to public service, but rarely do we talk about human feelings beyond that level. It is quite scary then, that politics continues rolling along as a lukewarm machine even in the face of thousands of unnatural human deaths in the span of just a few months.

The day I entered the woods, Pope Francis was just wrapping up his visit to South Korea, his first appearance in Asia. He wore a yellow ribbon throughout his trip there, symbolizing his solidarity with families of the Sewol ferry victims. Catholics and non-Catholics alike greeted him enthusiastically from all over Asia, perhaps as a symbol of warm relief from the exhausting status quo of realpolitik. When I came back from the woods, I was happy to see that the Pope had been generous with his time and words with journalists from all over the world on his airplane back. Breaking from tradition in liberally answering political questions on Iraq, Israel, and the South Korean parliamentary debacle, the Pope exhibited a much-needed stupidity at its wisest and most sensitive: “Listen. With human sorrow, you can’t be neutral. It’s what I feel.”

This article, like many others that question the world in the broad, does not lay out a solution to the sadness it describes. But I do think that it makes for a better world to not always be so darn smart and shrewd about everything. How would you take in the global chaos of the past few months if the world were just some point in the depths of the Appalachian Trail, no “us,” no “them,” just human to human? At the end of the day, smart might be stupid, and stupid might be smart.

Image credit: Wikimedia

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Copyright 2018