Stupidity vs. Devastating Decisions

When I graduated from High School, my Aunt and Uncle from Denver presented me with perhaps the only graduation gift that I still possess; Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Today it is dog-eared and the binding has come loose on the front cover, but there isn’t a week of my life when I don’t use that dictionary. Inscribed inside the first page are the words: “To Donald. Much happiness and success in Life! Love, Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bob — Graduation 1967”

It is reassuring that my Aunt and Uncle wanted me to be happy and successful. As I’ve grown it has occurred to me that success and happiness is made possible by avoiding stupid decisions and making wise ones. In my old Webster’s dictionary the definition for the word “stupidity” is “unthinking” or “irrational”. Before elaborating on stupidity, let me emphasize that in the context of this discussion, “stupid” does not refer to any genetic issues or intelligence quotients (IQ); it refers to mistakes of judgment that we all make during the course of our lives. The bad part about “stupidity” is that it usually causes personal loss or pain. The good part about “stupidity” is that we normally learn from our mistakes and make “course corrections” that enable us to have a brighter future!

All of us do stupid things, but the consequences vary widely. If you make a stupid business decision you might lose your company. If you make a stupid comment, you might lose a friend. However, some stupid decisions end up being “Devastating Decisions” or “DDs”, which are conscious, voluntary decisions that lead to loss of life or permanent injury. Prior to a long break or a summer vacation, my favorite physics professor would always admonish his students not to make any “DD’s”, such as getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Such a decision might lead to Webster’s definition of “devastate”, which means “to lay waste” or “to commit destructive actions”. For example, a “DD” can put you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, give you the HIV virus, or kill you.

Let me illustrate for you two recent examples of “Devastating Decisions”. On April 12, 2007, on the way to mediate a session between Don Imus and the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball team, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s SUV, driven by a State Trooper, was involved in a serious accident that nearly killed him. Corzine’s injuries included a large scalp laceration, a fractured clavicle, a fractured sternum, twelve fractured ribs, a fractured lower vertebrae, and an open, comminuted femur fracture with a large laceration and muscle damage. The New Jersey governor required over three weeks of hospitalization and will be in physical therapy for months to come.

Corzine’s “Devastating Decision” was a simple one; he didn’t wear his seatbelt. Traveling at over 90 miles per hour (another bad decision made by his trooper driver) and without a seatbelt, Corzine became a flying object in the crash. The trooper, who was buckled up, walked away. Corzine now urges all of his New Jersey constituents to wear their seatbelts and not to follow his bad example. In his case, one simple, Devastating Decision caused he and his family immeasurable pain and anguish, which will go on for months to come.

An even more unfortunate DD occurred in the early morning hours of April 29, 2007 when Josh Hancock, a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, slammed his SUV into the back of a parked tow truck, killing himself instantly. The coroner’s report released two days later indicated that Hancock had a blood alcohol content of .157 (nearly twice Missouri’s legal limit of .08) and was talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash. The Cardinals disappointedly accepted the findings of the coroner’s office, which made the tragedy even more horrific. Like Corzine, Hancock was not wearing a seatbelt, but the location and severity of his vehicle’s “crush zone” proved that Hancock died instantly on impact. In this case, Hancock’s DD was the excessive use of alcohol while driving.

The irony is that most of us have, at one time or another during our lives, acted stupidly in ways that could have resulted in a DD. When I was a kid I turned my bicycle into the path of an oncoming car. By the grace of God I walked away uninjured. Millions of Americans have driven automobiles while drunk, hoping and praying that they would arrive home without being pulled over by the police. Any of those incidents could have resulted in a DD. The moral of this story is twofold. First, we should not be quick to judge those who have been unfortunate enough to commit DD’s, as we probably have avoided them by the grace of God. Second, for the sake of our friends and loved-ones, we should avoid making DD’s at any cost.

When my children were teenagers I would always stress to them the difference between a stupid decision and a DD. “When you make a stupid decision, I’ll understand that you’re going through life’s learning process,” I told them. “If you make a Devastating Decision I will weep for the rest of my life.” I know that, despite my advice, they occasionally made decisions so stupid that they could easily have been DD’s. On occasion they will tell me about them; usually years later. My knees shake when I hear those stories. They’re still here; I’m still here. We’ve been blessed.

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