As I was checking out, the teenaged cashier rang up the veggies and sent them down to the bagger who promptly and unceremoniously shoved them into a sack. Mid-swipe of the next item, the cashier paused, looking thoughtful.
“You know if you want the sale on the peas you have to buy four bags.”
I didn’t buy peas, so I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I said in my politest voice, “Huh?
“The peas. If you want the sale, you have to buy four bags. Not two.”
He rolled his eyes and looked at me like I was an idiot. Then he said slowly and loudly, as though I were a deaf idiot, “You wooonnn’t get the saaallle priiiccce if you oooonly buy twooo bags of peeeeas. You have to buy fourrrrr.”
Yeah, I got it. Four bags of peas.
“There’s a sign back there but people don’t read it,” he continued.
I scrunched my face slightly, still not sure why we were having this conversation. “I’m sorry. What peas are you talking about?”
He sighed and rolled his eyes again. Then he reached over and pulled out one of the bean bags. He flipped it with his wrist as if to say, See? Peas, you moron.
“Those are beans,” I said, half looking around to see if I was being punked. “They’re on sale two for six dollars. I saw the sign. I didn’t see the sign for the peas . . . or . . . the peas themselves.”
He ignored me. “Well, lady, you aren’t going to get the sale price.”
“What price are the beans coming up as?”
“Three dollars each.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll take those.”
Apparently, we need to start teaching people the difference between peas and beans. Other than they’re both green.
Dare I get too cocky, as I walked out of the store, smirking at his idiocy, I realized that too often I’ve also perpetrated that kind of proud and self-assured ignorance.
Several years ago while teaching at a conference in the Toronto area, I had a friendly debate with a Canadian about the fact that Toronto sits on the bank of Lake Erie (it doesn’t). The Toronto resident tried politely to assure me that it sits on the shores of Lake Ontario (it does).
But no, in my arrogance I dove face-first into stupidity and reiterated that I had flown over Lake Erie to get there, and therefore Toronto was on Lake Erie. To be fair to my poor, misguided, albeit woefully oblivious, pride, I had actually flown over Lake Erie—and then I flew over the other lake while apparently I was napping or having my brain sucked out by the thin air at 30,000 feet.
When I realized the truth about Toronto’s location, I was mortified that not only had I been wrong, but I’d acted so arrogant about what I thought was truth. If I could have found that woman, I would have eaten any amount of proverbial crow to apologize to her. (At this point, I can only hope she reads this blog post.)
How often do we rush into judgment and make comments about something we do not really know or understand? How often do we catch snippets of gossip or biased news that the media hands out and jump to conclusions without practicing due diligence to discover the facts? How often do we blurt out first without considering someone else’s experience, expertise, or reality?
For me, the answer to the above is that I do those things too often. If I make a comment and then someone corrects me (correctly), I should accept and shut up so that perhaps I can learn something. But no, in my glory, I blaze a trail through Stupidville, reiterating my point and proving that I shouldn’t just blaze a trail there, but set up residence.
As Abraham Lincoln once said (also attributed to Mark Twain), “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
The Bible sums it up this way: “Even fools seem smart when they are quiet” (Proverbs 17:28, CEV).
For my young cashier friend, I could have grabbed the bag from his hand, pointed at the beans, and shouted, “Ha! They’re beeeaaaannns. Not peeeeas. Score!” Yes, I would have been right with that fact, but oh so wrong with the way I handled it. And to what end?
I appreciate the way my Canadian friend handled me. She stated the truth and when I continued to disbelieve her, instead of pulling out her phone and showing me Toronto on her Google maps, she simply smiled kindly (leaving me my dignity) and then changed the subject.
Some facts matter and we should set the record straight. But beans versus peas and Lake Erie versus Lake Ontario? It really doesn’t matter. We can let it go, let everyone maintain their dignity and respect, and look a whole lot smarter than we might actually be.
So the next time we’re set to dispute something someone else has said, perhaps it’s better for us to keep silent. If the other person is wrong, then they will show their own foolishness. And if we are wrong, no one will be the wiser.