Are You Dishonest? Or Just Stupid?


We all know them.  We all must deal with them.  And most importantly, we must be on our guard to keep from becoming one of them.  Who are they?

Two of the most important lessons I learned several years into my marriage were 1) Not everyone is like me; and 2) Nowhere is it written that everyone is even supposed to be like me.  Trust me, if you can learn to accept these two propositions in your relationships you will have a much easier time in life.

But back to our main point – who are “they”?

The first time I encountered one of them (and recognized it) was in my work as a litigation attorney.  Litigation is all about the resolution of disputes through the legal process.  Were you hurt? How badly?  Did someone back out of a deal?  Or not do what he or she was supposed to do?  This is where I live in my day to day life.

These matters are always adversarial and we lawyers are there to present our clients’ views and convince a judge or jury that “my way” is a better way of looking at this dispute than “his way.”

Most of the time the others in my legal community are reasonable people.  We know that our clients can be any number of things – angry, vengeful, dishonest, or maybe just plain unreasonable or wrong.  And when they are we try our best to minimize the damage and get to the best outcome we can.  But most of the time we have two decent people who have a dispute that they have not been able to reconcile.

In other words, a good lawyer knows that  there is almost always another side, and that reasonable people can disagree.  We can disagree about the meaning of a statute, we can disagree about whether a legal doctrine applies to our facts, and we can disagree about what may have actually happened.

But rarely I get one of “them” on the other side.  He (I will go with “he” though this is not always the case) has an unswerving belief in his side.  His client is right, remembers everything correctly and has no bias or impure motive.  His view of the law is inarguably correct and his evaluation of how the case should go is the only one that can possibly exist.  And if you disagree, there are only two possibilities: You have ulterior motives or you just don’t understand.  In other words, you are either dishonest, or you are just stupid.

In the decades since I first identified this phenomenon at the office, I have noticed it out in the world.  Unfortunately, it seems to be getting more common.

For one example, I recently experienced an issue with a software vendor.  The succinct version is that I was sold an upgrade that did not include all of the features I had previously paid for.

Should I have directly asked if every piece of this software was included in my new license?  Probably.  Should the representative of the company have known what I already had and made clear that the price he was quoting did not include all of it?  Oh my, yes.

Did we have a situation where there was a misunderstanding that both sides needed to work out with some kind of compromise?  Not according to that salesman.  “Did our contract say you had that license?  No?  Then why would you think you had it?”  I was left with a choice to pay extra money or (due to technical issues in the upgrade) be left with unusable software.  And if I did not see that, then I was either being dishonest or was just stupid.

This situation has been cropping up more and more in politics and government.  In a prior era, politicians always talked tough in public.  In the end, however, they were all part of the club and could almost always come to some resolution that most of them could live with.

Today we have more and more in government (in both parties and in both ends of the political spectrum) who see no reason to compromise.  Because they are right that there is no other legitimate view.  And if the other side does not see that, it must be because they are either dishonest or stupid.

Social media is no better.  Now I am not afraid to have political opinions, and some of them can be reasonably strong.  But I must always ask myself if the other side of the argument has a point.  We may not agree, but I have to understand and acknowledge that their grievances may very well be legitimate, even if we disagree on how to best address them.

Sadly there are those who do not approach things in this way.  I understand, of course, that 1) these people are not like me and that 2) nowhere is it written that they have to be.  I question, however, if some of these folks have ever considered these propositions.  Because when I disagree I am simply wrong.  My position has no legitimacy and could clearly be held only by someone trying to take unfair advantage of others or by someone who is just plain stupid.

Do you question whether racial quotas favored by the left are the best way to resolve lingering inequality issues?  Then you are either a racist or you just don’t understand the problem.  Do you question the effectiveness of tax rate cuts supported by the right?  Then you are either trying to subvert our economic system or you just don’t understand how the economy works.  Now it is always possible that someone really does have those motives – there are racists and there are people who would really like to subvert our economic system.  And there are people who do not understand the issue but spout off anyway.  Let’s go with uninformed instead of stupid, but you get the idea.

There are, however, thoughtful, intelligent people who just see things differently from the way I see them.  We can disagree about whether they give too much weight to some things over others and we can disagree on whether their ideas will work.  But a difference of opinion does not mean that they are dishonest and does not mean that they are stupid.  They are just decent, honorable people who disagree with me.

Another lesson I learned long ago is that the only person I can really control is myself.  So I suppose the best we can do is be able to recognize this mindset when we see it in others and to work at not falling into it ourselves.  Which – unless we actually are dishonest or stupid – is something fairly easy to do.

17 thoughts on “Are You Dishonest? Or Just Stupid?

  1. Well put. Numerous names of people for every example you gave sprang to mind throughout. Might this phenomenon also stem from (or be a reflection of) insecurity and doubt?

    One of the facilities I oversee has a reputation for expressing strong opinions that emerge with a degree of hostility. It’s a noxious cocktail that has lingered despite a significant amount of turnover the last seven years. During an early morning visit with them a while back one of them asked about my not liking to visit as they knew few liked doing so. My response was that, odd as it seems, I did like visiting them but I elaborated further stating their demeanor of “this is what we think and you’re an idiot if you disagree” was a darn big turnoff in addition to being self-detrimental. They were quite taken aback; sadly, the behavior hasn’t changed.


    • Yes, identifying the problem in others is a lot easier than identifying it in one’s self, especially if (like those folks you refer to) they are not really inclined to consider other views. It is also funny how a culture can take root and perpetuate despite changes in people within it.


    • Thanks, Joe. I am pretty sure your brother will have dealt with some of this type. One of the benefits of backing several steps away from some social media platforms is that my exposure to this kind of thinking has decreased a lot. A very good thing, I have decided.


  2. In these matters I always have the example of my grandfather, the non-self aware engineer. He was incredibly intelligent, and had great ideas but he also thought that if you disagreed with him you were stupid and he would tell you so. Subsequently few of his great ideas were implemented (which he railed about in his self published memoir). I suspect the steel company he worked for waited until after he retired to implement some of his ideas, so they wouldn’t have to deal with him. At any rate, I occasionally am a non-self aware engineer myself but I do make an effort to be aware. It works most of the time but not always.

    I read somewhere that politics got a lot more adversarial when elected members started going home every weekend, and not spending social time with each other. So you don’t get as much sense of them being an actual person. Makes sense with social media too, you can spend all your time in the echo chamber demonizing the other.

    So that’s my points, and if you don’t agree……..we need to have a beer together 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, beer is a good idea. Although it has a tendency to make easy times easier and hard times harder, depending on the situation.

      Another thing on the politics is that gerrymandering has seen to it that the number of really competitive congressional districts has become quite small. When you don’t have to live around many who disagree you can afford to ignore them and treat them as “those people” rather than some of your neighbors.


  3. Well said! That’s why I never get into political discussions anymore, as people don’t seem to be able to even acknowledge that there is always another side let alone debate things reasonably. (I remember debating clubs in high school where you assigned a side and had to support it – it taught you to see the other side). As for the “a good lawyer knows that there is almost always another side, and that reasonable people can disagree.” something I’ve always wondered about, is how lawyers can take on clients when they know the client is being unreasonable?? Do you try to dissuade them if they don’t have a case, or is it, everyone is entitled to representation, as in murder cases? Perhaps the client is bipolar (rages, mood swings) or narcissist personality disorder (all about me), and their grievances and opinions are being skewed by their mental illness. As a (former) medical professional I found those people to be the worst to deal with, although they could be quite charming too. I could never do your job, ever.


    • Thanks for your comment. I have been backing out of social media involvement for awhile now, and much of my reason involves this kind of thing. I had once thought that it was profitable to have political discussions with others I don’t agree with in the hopes that each of us would better understand where the other is coming from. Unfortunately, I found that it wasn’t really working that way – both because of the other person and also because that kind of response was bringing things out of me that I wasn’t really happy with.

      As for your second question, I don’t do criminal law but agree that everyone is entitled to representation just to keep the prosecution honest, if for no other reason. On the civil side, sometimes you can get an idea of the problems with a potential client in an initial interview and sometimes you cannot. It is not a fun time when you finally figure out that the problem here is your own client and that you need to spend a lot of effort trying to get them to see reason. A few times I have had to withdraw when I did not feel that I could continue representing them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think a lot of our woes are rooted in an inability to listen … and to think critically, too. But I’m especially worried about our society’s collective inability to compromise. Even small matters have become zero-sum games, in which there must be a clear “winner” and “loser.” It’s really disheartening, but you have me thinking about concrete ways that *i* can be a better and more open listener. After all, the change we want to see starts with each of us. Great post!


    • Thanks, Heidi. You make a good point about the tendency towards the zero sum game in our society. Most disputes between 6 year olds are that way, but they don’t often have to be among adults.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post really resonated with me—as did several of your commenters’ remarks. I especially agree about gerrymandering and not spending enough time together among politicians—and failure to listen more broadly.

    Someone close to me, whose politics differ dramatically from mine, will unerringly substitute “You’re wrong!” in place of “I disagree, and here’s why…” He is then surprised when I disengage.


    • “You’re wrong” is a great way to kill a conversation. Name calling is another, something else that we are seeing more of. I am a conservative, but if I hear the word “libtard” again I am going to . . . well, I’m not sure what.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A very nice post here. I think we all could benefit from listening more and arguing less. In my observation, most people are reasonable and are trying their best. Everyone has their hurts too and their own battles to fight. Hearing them out would make a lot of difference! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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