Smart Is Not Safe from Stupid

Rod Pickett
2 min readJun 10, 2024

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.

Richard P. Feynman, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character

“Be careful when you’re absolutely sure you are right.”

This was one of the most valuable lessons my dad taught me.

He warned me that, even when I am confident what I’m saying is 100% correct, a certain number of times I will discover I was mistaken.

His advice was to always be aware of that possibility and to state my opinion with a degree of epistemological humility.

(He didn’t use that word. I learned it much later.)

He wasn’t saying that I should be completely honest and never say that I was absolutely sure unless there was no doubt in my mind.

He was warning me that the most dangerous situation is when I am convinced that I couldn’t possibly be wrong.

We human beings have amazing brains that can instantly analyze potentially dangerous situations.

While our conclusions are mostly accurate, speed is more important than accuracy in those conditions.

Mistaking a stick for a snake could be embarrassing, but mistaking a snake for a stick could be fatal.

Our brain looks out for us in other ways.

It protects our self-image.

When we have a favorite sports team or political candidate, it highlights the evidence that we made an excellent choice and ignores the evidence of the opposite.

Much has been written about the ways our brain convinces us that we are right, even when we are wrong.

This knowledge is immensely useful in identifying this tendency — in other people.

However, we are blind to our own biases.

Education and intelligence do not protect us.

Surprisingly, the more intelligent we are, the more susceptible we are to these unconscious filters.

We convince ourselves that those who disagree with us don’t understand reality as well as we do.

And those unconscious filters supply us with ample evidence to support that assumption.

There are some things we can do to fight this:

· Have friends that see the world differently than we do.

· Search out the strongest counterarguments to our position.

· Celebrate when we are proven wrong — because it means we have improved our understanding of reality.

I’m 100% confident these strategies will work for you.

But I could be wrong.

— Rod Pickett

Now available at Amazon: The Courageous Heart: Wisdom for Difficult Times in paperback and eBook, an Eric Hoffer Award Finalist, a must-read for anyone seeking inspiration and guidance. Get your copy today.



Rod Pickett

Rod Pickett is a writer, pastor, teacher, photographer, real estate broker, personal trainer, consultant, trained hypnotist, woodworker and life-long learner.