Have you ever done something stupid?

“Friends don’t let you do stupid things. Good friends don’t let you do stupid things alone.”


“Love is being stupid together”

Paul Valery

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t bother, if you are old enough to have had a thought, then you’ve surely done something stupid. If it was really stupid, and dumb, then you probably swore to never tell anyone. Ever. But then one day you did tell someone. Most likely alcohol was involved; both in the doing and the telling. Most likely it was a good friend you told. And if it was a good friend you told, then you will likely never hear the end of it. All in fun and love of course.

I know I’ve certainly done my fair share of stupid things. Even some dumb ones. And more than one stupid and dumb thing. Just for the sake of clarity, I am using stupid and dumb as two slightly different things. I feel that stupid things are things you are ignorant of. Or things that you should have known by the time you did them. Dumb things though? Well these are the worst. Dumb things are those things you are not ignorant of. Dumb things are things you do know. Yeah, you were just not using your brain. To be fair, sometimes dumb things are just habit. Let’s say your power has gone out. And you are keenly aware that the power is out. Every time you go into a room you instinctively flip the light switch. And then silently call yourself out. But that’s a little dumb thing. We won’t count those. Another dumb thing is when the person at the refreshment stand at the theater gives you your order and says, “enjoy the movie.” And you smile and reply, “you too”. Ooo, publicly dumb. That’s on the line… we might have to count that. Now, on to some examples.

Here’s a fun example from my submarine days. Submariners are quite human, though many of them would pridefully add the “super” prefix. Yet human they are. One of the limiting factors of submarine operations is nothing at all confidential, top secret, nor classified in any way. It’s food. Those human operators need to eat, and that submarine is going to have to come back up to get some food. Something most folks wouldn’t think of though is where might all that food go? The engineers designing these systems did think of this. Thankfully. We had a couple of tanks on board which contained all that human waste. Sanitary tanks we called them. When those tanks got to a certain level we would note that they would need to be emptied sometime soon. The way we emptied them was simple. We would make sure all the openings to the tank were closed, and then we would pressurize it to greater than sea pressure and open the hull valve to spray all that, ummm, stuff overboard. When we were operating deep under water, the sea pressure was too great for this, so we would wait until we were coming to periscope depth. We’d ask permission from the Officer of the Deck, just to make sure we weren’t anywhere we shouldn’t be to do this, and then we’d pressurize the sanitaries and prepare to… blow the sanitaries overboard. You may or may not have considered this predicament we would have put ourselves into here. I noted earlier that we’d make sure to close any opening to the sanitary tanks. Well, most of the openings were in the form of toilets. Several of them. Just to note, the toilets were located in small washrooms which the Navy calls heads. Our toilets were not typical household toilets. They didn’t flush as ours do. Rather there was a water valve which allowed water to fill the bowl, and then on the side of the toilet was a long handle which operated a ball valve at the bottom of the bowl. What’s a ball valve? It’s exactly what it sounds like. Imagine a softball-sized metal ball. But there is a large hole (the size of the bottom of the bowl) drilled through it. When the handle on the side is all the way back, the hole is perpendicular to the bowl, when you rotate the handle towards you, the ball turns and the hole aligns with the bowl. Here’s how you do this. You do your business. You open the water valve to start flowing water into the bowl. You pull the handle forward and allow all of your business to flow with the water down and eventually into the sanitaries. You let the water rinse the bowl a bit and then you close the ball valve. Allow a little water to accumulate into the bowl and close the water valve. Easy peasy.

Now it’s time to blow the sanitaries. We are coming to, or at periscope depth, and the person doing this requests and obtains permission. They then make an announcement that we are preparing to blow the sanitaries and that all heads (bathrooms) are secured. The person doing this task will hang signs like this:

One particular time we were doing this I was off watch and wandering around the front of the submarine. I knew they were doing this, and had just ventured down to the lower level where one of the heads was, and I saw the guy going around making sure everything was ready. Suddenly I heard a loud roar, and ran in to check what was happening. He was standing there, clipboard in hand, drenched. Mostly on the face. And just shaking his head muttering every sailor’s favorite word. Hint… it starts with “f” and like the dripping water, rhymes with “yuck”. Afterward he said he was checking everything and when he checked this toilet he saw some bubbles and was going to make sure the ball valve was fully closed. Instead he instinctively pulled it forward, with the pressurized air blowing the (fortunately only water) contents of the bowl onto his face. FYI, this is termed “blowing the shitters on yourself.” For this guy, it was a dumb thing. But let’s say someone groggy from sleep doesn’t see the sign. Let’s say that groggy person did their big business, and then. Well, you get it. That’s a very dumb thing.

Why do we do stupid things? There are so many reasons to err. As a matter of fact, someone once said: “To err is human.” I say someone said, because the original authorship is debated. I’m going to go with the Alexander Pope version for this post, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Ignorance or inexperience. Or both, which is the worst combination. Be zen, be in the moment. For me, if I look back honestly at all the times I’ve done stupid things, the root cause has been nestled well within the dumb things category. But with a fair amount of inexperience often added liberally. Also, since I’m being honest at the moment, there’s a fair bit of laziness added to the mixture. Some of the worst things have been because I was too lazy to do whatever it was properly. For instance I was replacing the engine coolant temperature sensor on my car once, and I used three of those angled ratchet extensions to reach back where the sensor was. I even thought of the (so inexperience wasn’t the cause) possibility of incorrect torque. And so it went. The temperature sensor snapped right off. I had to come up with a poorly cobbled together temperature gauge. Finally I took the car to a mechanic. Who didn’t do a stupid and dumb thing.

I’m trying to better myself. For one thing, I now weigh the costs of doing it myself (possibly poorly) versus paying to have it done. I’m also trying to educate myself so that I am not so ignorant. But mostly I am trying my level best to use the zen principle of living in the moment. I’ve mentioned this before, to be one hundred percent in on what you are doing. To do while doing. Had I been mechanicing while mechanicing (yeah that doesn’t really work) perhaps I’d have done the work properly while replacing that temperature sensor.

And finally, back to Alexander Pope and his quote. This quote is from his poem “An Essay on Criticism Part II”, where it is stated as; “To err is humane; to forgive divine.” If you find this post to be off kilter, please… be divine. Forgive me.

Peace and Love

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