There I was, waiting for my connecting flight to Helsinki after a long transatlantic flight; trying to have a nap and minding my own business – until my neighbour decided to involve me in his. “I may be stupid, but I’m not that stupid,” he all but screamed into his phone while clicking furiously on his PC.
It was the volume and the sentiment that caught my reluctant interest. The same phrase, “I may be stupid, but I’m not that stupid” was reiterated time and again during the long call that had something to do with software development.
I had flown directly into someone else’s rage it seemed. Napping was not an option. Neither was moving to a quieter, more nap-friendly location. All the seats in the lounge were taken; I was stuck with the guy. My only consolation was that we would be parting ways in an hour – in theory. My chosen airline was not a top performer in the category of timely departures.
The person on the other end of the call was clearly stuck with his or her raging boss more permanently; with a bully that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
Which brought to mind a few internationally renowned leaders that we are all stuck with, although they would rather be caught dead than saying that they may be stupid, but not that stupid. They know better: Never admit to anything, not even in jest. There is always the risk that someone will take it literally.
Like I did with the guy in the lounge. Yes, I thought, you clearly are stupid. Why else would you be screaming away in this lounge.
Putin and Trump may be stupid, but they are not that stupid. Instead of admitting to anything, they concentrate on confusing the issues.
My fear today is that we all start getting used to the way things are. That it only takes some minor tamping down of all this craziness for us to hope for better times. That we will be so relieved if Putin stops gobbling up foreign territories and Trump stops his most outrageous bullying of both countries and people that we turn a blind eye to the rest.
I find myself being almost grateful for the fact that Trump keeps being Trump. Even Paul Ryan finally found the guts to squeak a protest against Trump’s latest brainchild, the tariffs on steel and aluminium. With a trade war brewing, it’s harder to fall into complacency.
I am not a stranger to the occasional rage myself, by the way. I find myself raging that things are getting out of hand. It’s always easier to see where others go wrong.
Every now and then someone gets tired of my complaining (surprise) and asks me if I think I could do better.
Initially I went with the cocky answer, “I’m not the one running for office.” But I have later revised my answer to, “Yes I could, because doing nothing would be better than what is done right now.”
So yes, I think I could do better. You could too.
Let’s forget about the rest of the world, and take two bigger Finnish reforms as examples: the reforms of the healthcare system and the education system. You really don’t need to know anything about them to follow my drift. We could just as easily be talking about major reforms anywhere.
The problems are universal. Not only for governments, but for other actors too.
It usually starts with change. Change happens and systems have to adapt. When the systems are big and the costs are high, it’s even more important that they adapt. But the bigger the change and the system, the more prone decision makers are to just close their eyes, agree on a “big scenario”, and hope that things fall in place by themselves. Which they never do.
Instead everyone plays “toss the ball” and “pick the raisins from the bun” with key decisions. When all is said and done, it would have been better to do nothing.
Cultures come and go, countries come and go, companies come and go, people come and go. Up till now humankind has moved forward despite this. Where are we now? Still steadily moving forward, or in free fall?
At times it feels like the latter. It’s all so complicated. Is that why we are turning to rage and betting on crazy? Take the latest Italian election. Talk about grasping at straws.
Was that my lounge neighbours problem too? Was he just out of his depth?
Whatever the reason, rage never solves anything (although it may make you feel better for a fleeting moment). I have learned this the hard way when dealing with airlines and airport officials. They, together with automated answering services, drive my crazy regularly. It does me no good. There is nothing I can do about most things that aggravate me, except vote with my legs.
So that is what I have done. I have left Trumpland behind. I am not saying that I did it solely because of the changes Donald Trump and the spineless Republicans, who keep propping him up, have wrought in America. But they played a big part in making the decision easy. Trumpland is not nice to behold. It keeps getting more and more self-serving and divisive, it bullies and indulges in bigotry, and it serves up fake news daily. All-in-all it looks more and more like its leader – like an angry mess.
In a little more than a year, America, the former leader of the Western world, has become the drag anchor of the Western world. But at least Jared Kushner has got his business funding in order, and the wealthy have got a lovely tax bonus.
I may be stupid, but I’m not that stupid. It was time to get out, before the swamp with its new, nastier crocodiles swallowed me.
I just wish I could have taken my friends with me.