It is so difficult at times to tell the difference between idiocy and ignorance. The latter, of course, implies a lack of knowledge in a particular area, yet the ability to learn and improve. The former simply reflects poor actions or decision-making despite presumably having the information that should have prevented it. Idiocy can also be the result of simply refusing to acknowledge one’s own ignorance and proceeding with a trajectory absent the knowledge one would otherwise need. The one thing that idiocy and ignorance have in common is that they can both be a product of the environment in which one was raised and continues to exist. 

This can be a concern for those of us in workers’ compensation, since the vast majority of people in this nation exist in an environment that has left them unaware and unprepared for the rigors of our processes.

An associate at my office is married to a real estate agent. He told me a story this week that highlights both ignorance and idiocy, each of which sound as if they are the product of the environment from which the subjects came. His wife helped a couple, estimated to be in their young forties, who were relocating to Florida from a midwestern state. I won’t name the state, but we can narrow it down by telling you they grow a tremendous amount of corn there. So much corn…. But I digress. 

They purchased a house and had their closing last week. They moved into their new home over the weekend. The day following the move, the realtor received a very angry phone call from the husband. He was quite upset, and she was clearly the target of his wrath. The problem?

Well, it seemed their new home didn’t have any power, and the internet did not work. He told her without internet his wife could not do her job and may get fired. He wanted to know what she intended to do about it.

At this point of the story I thought I was being punked. I mean, no one could really be that stupid. Or ignorant. Or idiotic. But I was wrong. 

The realtor asked if they had arranged for the utilities at their new home prior to moving in. This seemed to befuddle the man. It turns out that for every home they had purchased prior (in the land of endless corn), his father-in-law had done everything for them. They were accustomed to walking into a new home with everything up and operational. They did not realize that these things needed to be done.

This would reveal a general ignorance about the process; an ignorance that was borne of the environment in which they existed. But of course, we’re not done. This story also has its fair share of idiocy on display.

The realtor patiently explained that they would need to contact the power company and the internet provider of their choice and arrange to have service activated. He would have none of that. He gave her his social security number and credit card information. He told her specifically what internet provider they needed (the one they had in the land of corn). And he also told her they “required DSL.”

OK, in this day of incredible broadband technology, if you “require DSL” I am afraid we have moved beyond idiocy. We have ventured into the realm of the fully fledged moronic. It is not a pretty thing to see.

Anywhoo, the man ended the call by ordering her to fix the problem and telling her “I don’t have time for this s**t.” He then hung up on her. I am not sure what action she intends to take, but if it were me, those folks would be sitting in the dark for several weeks before they figured out they were on their own. Oh, and I may own a new car in his name, since all of his credit info was graciously provided in the call. 

This was a great example of idiocy. He initially simply lacked, as amazing as that can be, the information he needed to complete a required task. But once given that information he chose to double down and refuse to acknowledge his situation. That was a careening shift from ignorance to idiocy. Those factors, along with his apparent inability to cope with the simplest of concepts, are a product of the environment from which he came; a father-in-law (and likely others) who coddled the couple and prevented them from learning life’s most basic lessons.  

And those lessons, of course, are:

  1. You must be engaged in your own life.
  2. Understanding process is key to navigating a system.
  3. If you don’t know the process, it is up to you to learn it.
  4. You are responsible for your own power.
  5. No one will arrange better connections for your needs than you will.
  6. And DSL sucks. It will do if that is all that is available to you, but otherwise there are better options in life.

It would behoove us to remember that people coming into workers’ comp for the first time, both as industry employees and injured workers, may have a parallel track as our powerless and hopelessly disconnected couple. No one’s upbringing or environment will prepare them for a run through our system. We can and should assume a great deal of ignorance when dealing with the newly injured and should be prepared to educate and assist them in that process. Most, properly guided and informed, will not veer down the path of idiocy, although those who do will continue to provide us with spectacular stories along the way.

Now, if you look at that list, you will see that it really applies to those whose lives have been thrust under our care. Especially that part about DSL. 

After all, the strength of the connection is important, as the amount of clear and useful information that can be transmitted will make all the difference in the quality of outcomes we seek.

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