Saturday, August 31, 2013

Playing Stupid Part 2: The Downside

Yesterday I shared some of the benefits of "playing stupid." But what about those times it blows up in your face? Here are three terrible ways that it can all go wrong:

1. People will think you're an actual idiot.

This one seems obvious, doesn't it? I mean, sure, I may get a laugh if I pretend a student's newfangled cell phone confuses my old man sensibilities. But what if someone standing there legitimately wonders if I'm behind the times?

In Iowa this happens a lot with agriculture. I exaggerate what I don't know. Here's a status I threw up on my Facebook wall, "I don't know why everyone is talking about putting in their plants this month. Carrie and I just spent the day harvesting a huge crop out of our garden. There were these yellow flowers. And white puffy ones. And prickly green plants. Must be beginner's luck -- we're excelling at this gardening thing."

Photo credit: David DeHetre via Flickr

Very kindhearted people wrote me to say, "Aw, Matt, those are actually dandelions and thistles." >-< Ouch, they really thought I was that out of it? In their defense, I have learned a lot in this past year that locals take for granted. For example, I've learned the definition of "detasseling" (which is different from detasseling in the Jewish neighborhood I grew up in).

Truly, I appear stupid enough throughout the day without the help of "playing stupid."

2. The Same Story gets Repeated Again and Again

"Playing stupid" is the kryptonite of gossip. It's true. But when someone approaches trying to pull me into a salacious story and I demurely opt to "play stupid," there is a high probability that individual is going to launch into the full story anyway.

I should be clear: I always encourage people towards uplifting, honest, two-way conversation, and to avoid talking behind other's backs. Does that change a person's desire to spill everything they know? For some reason, no.

Fortunately not everything is gossip. Sometimes I'm just respecting confidentiality and trying not to accidentally confirm what is private information. I "play stupid" by keeping quiet and the caring individual shares information I already knew.

3. People give you Free Stuff

This is a downside!? Actually, yes, it is. Because even if the item is given with 99% kindness, there is still that last 1% of pity. And like a drop of steroids in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, 1% is all it takes to spoil the batch.

I made a casual, self-deprecating joke about my gardening efforts and suddenly there was a crate of homegrown tomatoes outside my front door. I exaggerated the ease of lawncare in Arizona (no mowing + no weeding = happy Matt) and now I have a donated lawnmower and weed eater sitting in my garage.

These random acts of kindness spotlight the unbelievable, extravagant, constant generosity of the people of Algona. Thank you, everyone! And if I was straightforward with my need/request, "Does anyone have a couple extra tomatoes from their garden I could try?" then no big deal.

But when the offer is made because I exaggerate my need or ignorance? Well then I just feel dirty receiving this charity. You'll see, one day a guy in a suit and sunglasses will knock on my door. All he'll say is "3rd degree lawnmower theft" and cart me off to jail. I'm truly the lamest form of con man: the accidental kind.

Conclusion: Is "playing stupid" worth it?

Yesterday I wrote the upside, today I wrote the downside. So what do you think, reader? Have you ever been caught in a situation where you pretended not to know? Have you found any notable benefits or consequences to playing stupid?

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Funny stuff. But I suspect people just need to get to know you better to realize that you are not ever truly "stupid". And that anytime you "play stupid" it is tongue-in-cheek, although I do see your point in #2....sometimes it's better to just be "stupidly quiet" and not disclose information you should not share.