A few years ago I was on a lunch break at work when my co-worker Jason walked in and darted in my direction without making eye contact or greeting anybody. He sat down abruptly and looked as if he couldn’t restrain himself. Like he’d been pondering the mysteries of the Universe and had an “Eureka!” moment.
“I just realized something about you,” he said. “You’re not stupid.”
“Well, hello to you too.” I responded,
“I have been trying to figure it out for weeks. When I have a conversation with you it is rational and interesting, but the moment we are working I can’t help but realize you act like a dumbass,” he said.
“You have been trying to figure out if I’m stupid or not?” I said, acting mildly confused at his assertions.
“You walk around here like you should be wearing a helmet, you do idiotic things, you seem as if you barely have the mental capability to function. At first I thought you were just either high or drunk all the time, but your pupils are never dilated”
“You have been paying that much attention to my behavior?” As I leaned back, staring at him.
“I can’t help it, I just can’t believe anybody could really be that stupid.” He said, now doubting if he was wrong in his assumptions and wondering if he had just insulted me.
He was right and I couldn’t help messing with him. This conversation went on for my whole break until I finally admitted to him that I was playing dumb. I started playing the role of the idiot at work when I realized nobody takes you seriously until you are at least 30 years old and I do not work in academia where it is essential to my job to convince others I am smart. I admit it is a fun role to play and it has become a survival technique at work.
- Nobody asks for your opinion because they think you have no opinion. By having no opinions you also have no enemies. You never say anything disagreeable or offensive. You stay at the bottom of the gossip food chain and have no predators on the look out for candid remarks they can use against you later.
- Nobody feels threaten by you. Your boss never thinks you want their job and your co-workers never think you want to be promoted. You can just do your job and go home.
- Nobody gives you extra work because they think you are doing the best you can do. There is no pressure to do better or do more. Any extra work goes to somebody else because they assume you might not be able to handle it. The most important work goes to other people because they have their doubts about whether or not you will mess it up.
- People let down their guard and speak without a filter. They will tell you gossip because they don’t think you will repeat it. They will even tell you things you shouldn’t know because they don’t think you will understand it. This is helpful in the era of lay offs and knowing if you should be the first rat to jump a sinking ship.
- You fly under the radar and blend in with the crowd. By playing the idiot you never do anything that draws too much attention, therefore you never have to worry about getting good or bad attention.
- You will have job security because nobody fires the idiot. They never bring enough attention to themselves for anybody to consider firing them. They never create enough animosity to have others hoping they will no longer have to work with them.
- People generally like the idiot unless they cause them problems. Most idiots are likable simply because they don’t offend, get bad attention, or create tension. The only time an idiot is disliked is if other people have to pick up the slack too much or if the idiot gets them in trouble.
- The idiot has the security of using “I don’t know” or being oblivious to the obvious. If you are playing role of the idiot you can get out of most problems by saying “I don’t know”. If that doesn’t work you can always pretend to not understand what they are talking about.
- You can be a little selfish and nobody would know. If you act in your own best interest instead of being selfless or acting for the benefit of the group, others would just expect you didn’t know any better. The idiot is usually forgiven for their blunders
- You have more free time. Playing the idiot means you don’t have to make decisions and nobody thinks of you as a leader. Nobody consults you, asks you to solve a problem, or asks for your help. You don’t have to stay late to finish the work and you don’t have the burden of picking up the slack when a co-worker calls out of work because of their hangover.