All our lives great shivers of
fear have run up and down our spines when these terrible words have reached our
ears, and we’ve gone to enormous lengths to avoid their being directed at us.
It’s understandable that we would feel this way, because these words have
uniformly been spat like venomous bullets, and the people who have spoken
them—our parents, teachers, friends, and others—have been those whose opinions
we have valued highly. The context and delivery of these words have been
terrifying. We learned at an early age that when someone said, “You are so stupid,” that had quite a different
connotation from someone saying “You are so tall.” We learned that being stupid
was a distinctly bad thing, and when people proclaimed our stupidity, we also
noticed that they were far less
accepting of us—less affectionate, less warm—than when we were not stupid. The
withdrawal of their acceptance was devastating.
Understandably, therefore, these
words continue to carry quite a negative emotional charge for us, even as
adults. We fear them. We avoid them. Regrettably, however, whatever we fear
also tends to become a significant obstacle to our growth and happiness, and
such is the case with these words.
Because of our fear of the word stupid, for example—not to mention idiot, moron, and others—we are very reluctant to admit that we’re stupid even when we ARE stupid. That is a huge problem, because when we can’t tell the
truth about who we really are—including about our stupidity—
(1) we can’t change who we are,
we can’t grow, and
(2) we can’t feel
Let’s address both of these
consequences of not telling the truth, particularly as they relate to the
unspeakable words we have listed.
First, when we can’t tell the
truth about ourselves, we can’t change who we are.
One of the technological marvels
of recent years is the various mapping programs on the Internet: Mapquest, for
example, and other such programs by Google and Yahoo. As a child, I thought
maps were the greatest things. I would pore over them for hours, fascinated at
the tapestry of roads, rivers, cities, mountains, and so on. In my mind, I took
trips on those roads, from cities on one side of the country to cities on the
other side. It was great fun. Yes, I know I needed to get out more.
So as an adult it fascinates me
that we can type into the computer two addresses from almost anywhere in the
world, and in seconds these mapping programs will tell us exactly how to make
the shortest journey between those two points: what roads to take, how to turn,
how far it is between turns. The programs do have a limitation, however. If I
want to get from where I am to another place, I absolutely must enter the
correct address for the spot where I’m beginning my journey. If I enter an
address different from my starting location, there isn’t a chance that I’ll
take the right path to get where I want to go.
A similar accuracy is required
for plotting the path of our personal lives. If I lie about where I am right
now, I don’t stand a chance of reaching my eventual goals, because my starting
point is in error. Every turn and movement thereafter is then based on a
mistake, so how can I hope the journey will turn out well? We must tell the
truth about our mistakes, flaws, and fears, not to humiliate ourselves but
because without the truth we cannot correct or eliminate these qualities which
impede our growth and happiness.
So what is the truth about us relative to the word stupid?
In ten years, will you know more
than you know now? I hope so. I hope you will know a great deal more than you
know now. That’s the whole idea of learning. Relative to what you will know in ten years, therefore, would you
characterize yourself as smart now?
Of course not. Compared to your wise condition in ten years, you’re relatively stupid now, and the only reason we
resent that word is that it’s always been accompanied by a lack of
acceptance—usually by bitterness and anger, in fact. If we need another
example, compared to God we are massively stupid. It’s just a description of
fact, not an accusation or term of belittlement. When I suggest that we admit
our stupidity, I am not talking about
self-deprecation. I’m not talking about making ourselves feel small. I’m
talking about a simple description of how things are.
So why use this particular word?
Precisely because we avoid it, precisely because as long as we don’t use it, we
cannot feel unconditionally loved, which is the second consequence of not telling
the truth about ourselves that we listed earlier.
All our lives we’ve had to earn the approval of others by being
obedient, cooperative, clever, responsible, and so on, and we have ample
evidence that if we fall below a certain standard in any of those areas, people
really will withdraw their approval. Over and over, we’ve seen that when we are
stupid—mostly when we behave in ways
other people don’t like—people clearly don’t like us as much. They scowl, shrug
their shoulders, and offer critical comments. In order to defend ourselves from
those painful signs of the withdrawal of approval, therefore, we deny our
mistakes, make excuses, and do whatever it takes so that people won’t think
This is a huge mistake. It’s
much, much more productive to simply admit our stupidity. Why? Because it’s
usually true that we are stupid, and
because our admission creates opportunities for people to love us without conditions—to give us Real Love.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve participated in a scenario like the
I was trying once to help
someone set up the audiovisual equipment for a seminar, and in the process I
hooked up some of the cables incorrectly. The man in charge of the setup looked
at what I’d done, put a big frown on his face, and said, “This is all wrong.
Why did you do it this way?”
I smiled and responded, “Oh, I’m
just stupid, and, regrettably, it’s not the first time today it’s leaked out.
It seems to be kind of a pattern, actually. I would love to have your help.”
He immediately lost the frown
and said, “No, you’re not stupid. You just didn’t know how to do it. Here, let
me show you how.”
Why did his attitude change so
suddenly? Because I told him the truth,
which has a remarkable effect on people. When I tell you the truth, I’m making
a choice not to defend myself—not to use any of the unproductive behaviors that
interfere with love in a relationship—which is also a choice to care about you, and you can feel that. In addition,
when I tell you the truth, I give you an opportunity to accept me
unconditionally, and we all have an innate desire to do that. Telling the truth
is a powerful catalyst.
I have spoken in many venues
where people have come up after the seminar and said to me, “I really enjoyed the message of Real Love—or unconditional
love—but I’m concerned about your use of the word stupid. I think it might be better if you used it less.”My response is, “I suggest you use the word more often, until you take the sting out
of it, until it doesn’t frighten you anymore. Use the word stupid until you see it simply as a non-critical description, until
you can describe something you did by saying, ‘That was stupid’ in the same
tone you would say, ‘It’s about four miles from your house to mine.”
Allow me to emphatically
interject here that we must remember to use the word stupid only when describing ourselves,
not others. On the whole, other people don’t appreciate hearing themselves
described as stupid.
Accepting our relative stupidity
can give us such freedom. Over the years I have discovered that I actually
enjoy talking about my stupidity. When I talk openly about what I don’t know, I
now have the freedom to learn and grow. Rather than avoid the admission of
stupidity, I open declare my goal that every day I strive to be a little less
stupid than I was the day before. Talking about my stupidity also frees me to
be unconditionally loved. If you love me while I’m smart and competent, I’m
trapped. Now I have to possess these qualities all the time in order to be worthy
of your love. But if you love me while I’m stupid, what do I have to worry
about? Now I know you love me without conditions, and that is no small thing.
Let us openly declare and
embrace our flaws. To be sure, there is an initial discomfort in that approach,
but the rewards are great: First, we no longer have to engage in the exhausting
and fearful game of hiding our imperfections and defending them. Second, we can
feel loved with our defects rather
than despite them. And third, we can
finally work openly on correcting our flaws, rather than secretly fearing and
denying them. The truth really does set us free.
About Greg Baer, M.D.:
For twenty years, Greg Baer, M.D. was a highly
successful surgeon, teacher, civic leader, and entrepreneur. But despite all
his accomplishments, wealth, and respect, he felt empty
and unhappy. He became a drug addict and nearly
committed suicide. In his subsequent search for genuine happiness, he learned
some principles that have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands.
After Dr. Baer retired from one of the busiest
solo ophthalmology practices in the United States, he began a new
career of writing, teaching, and speaking. He has:
• Written 16 books about relationships, marriage, and parenting. Real
Love—The Truth About Finding Unconditional Love and Fulfilling Relationships* AND
Real Love in
Marriage—The Truth About Finding
Genuine Happiness Now and Forever* were published by Gotham Books, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Real Love has been
translated into multiple languages, with 8 books of the series published in
China. Other books by Dr. Baer include:
Real Love in Parenting—Nine Simple and
Powerfully Effective Principles for Raising Happy and Responsible Children*
Real Love in Dating—The Truth About
Finding the Perfect Partner*
Real Love in the Workplace
Real Love and Freedom for the Soul –
Eliminating the Chains of Victimhood*
Real Love for Wise Men and Women—The
Truth About Sharing Real Love
(* Also available as Audiobooks)
• Produced the three-CD audio series, The Truth About Love and
• Produced the 6 DVD set (with Workbook), The Essentials of Real
• Produced the PBS television special, "Real Answers,"
• Appeared on over 1500 radio and television programs from coast to coast. Dr.
Baer has a compassionate and engaging media presence, typified by the following
“You’ll want to listen to
this program in a doorway — it’s like an earthquake!
He rocked my foundation!
Greg Baer touched me deeply.
He’s got the
answer to finding happiness in life.”
(Tony Trupiano, Talk America)
• Counseled personally with thousands of individuals and couples,
profoundly changing their lives with the principles and power of Real Love.
• Conducted over 300 seminars and corporate trainings and delivered speeches
to audiences across the country where he has taught the principles of Real
• Developed a comprehensive website that offers Real Love education
through video coaching, webcasts, chat rooms, and much more.
Said Ken Blanchard, author of The One
Minute Manager, the best selling management book of all time,“Real
Love is the single most powerful motivator in a leader’s toolbox. Clear and
unsentimental, this book is required reading for a profitable workplace.”
Dr. Baer and his wife, Donna, are the parents of
seven children and live in Rome,