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Stupid things smart people say

Updated: May 9, 2021

The first in an occasional series


Welcome to the first in an occasional series on the stupid things smart people say. The goal isn’t to humiliate the rich and famous, as satisfying as that can be, let’s face it. But we won’t go there.

Our goal is to pick out certain things people say as if they made sense, but which in fact are wrong, ignorant, and stupid. All in our certainly foolish hope that no one will ever say these stupid things again.

Let’s start with Matthew McConaughey. No, that came out all wrong. I have nothing against that good ol’ boy. I like him, in fact. So Matthew is fine.

It’s just that he’s one in a long, long line of people who said one particular very stupid thing.

His motives were stellar. Like a lot of rich parents, he and his wife struggle to deal with the privilege their children grow up with, especially since Matthew is also famous. And Matthew talked about this in an October 30, 2020, piece in Glamour. Like any really good parent, Matthew wants his kids to understand what’s really important in life, and that money and fame aren’t that.

Of course, like any parent, he also wants his kids to be proud of their parents’ accomplishments. And here’s where the trolley jumps the tracks. He goes on to say,

"...if a kid at school ever tells you, ‘Oh, I bet you live in a big house because your dad’s famous,’ don't bow your head. Look up, and go, ‘Yeah, we do actually live in a nice house. My dad works really hard to be as good as he can at his job,’ which I do."

Oh, man. If I had a nickel for every time a rich guy talked about how he was rich because he worked hard, I’d be richer than all of ’em.

“I’m rich because I work hard” is a very stupid thing to say, and it’s got to stop.

Why is it so stupid? Let’s go.

“I live in a really nice house and have a big bank account because I work really hard.” Ah! So that’s how it works!! How grateful we all are for your pointing out to us how the system functions. Now, when I drive by the small, not-so-nice houses the vast majority of people live in, it will all make sense to me: they don’t work really hard.

For example, let’s say Matthey McConaughey works 100 hours a week acting and acting and acting and makes $10,000,000 a year. So the people who live in these poor houses and earn, let’s say, $50,000 a year at best must be working only 20 seconds a week. (Do the math!)

That’s it! People live in small, not-so-nice houses because they work only 20 seconds a week. I guess that’s good news! If you and I could up our weekly hours to even half of Matthew’s heavy workload, to say 50 hours a week, then we’d at least make $5,000,000 a year. Personally, I’m gonna just go to 25 hours a week, because I think I can do really nicely on a mere $2,500,000 a year.

Or is it that a nurse who works a full eight-hour day, plus overtime, and makes $80,000 a year can zoom straight up to $10,000,000 if she does double shifts five days a week?

Now if you’ve thought there’s something wrong with the way I’ve figured all this, you may just be right. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of poor people who work long hard hours! What’s up with that??? I know for a fact about their long hard hours. That they have commonly two or even three jobs. That these jobs are in some cases almost as hard as an actor’s job or a basketball player’s. And yet they’re still struggling to get by.

But for Matthew and all the other rich guys to be making sense in what they say, these poor folks working these long, hard hours, and all the middle-class folks working long hours and living in not-so-big, not-so-nice houses must be really, really rich just like Matthew.

Which means that our view of America, this country you and I live in, is all wrong. There must be millions and millions and millions of very hard-working Americans who are extremely wealthy, pulling in $10,000,000 a year, but who are incredibly, super-duperly more modest in their lifestyle than Matthew McConaughey and the others who just don’t know how to tone down their spending.

Yeah, that must be it.

Or—and I’m just saying this for you to think about—Matthew and all the other rich folks who ascribe their incredible wealth to their hard work are just gaslighting you. They are, quite simply, lying. In fact, they’re rich because, shameful as it would be to admit it, they’re just f---in’ lucky. Lucky because they were born with talents that others of us weren’t born with. Lucky because they were born with talents the marketplace rewards: a merely good actor can earn insanely more than one of the great mathematicians of the century whose job will still be just that of a professor. Lucky because they have the health to keep going and keep working. Lucky in many cases—and this is so often true in business—they were born into families that were able to give them a big head start.

Sure most of them work hard. But so do the rest of us.

If rich folks were honest about the whole “Oooh, look, you live in a big, beautiful house” thing, what they’d say is, “I’m incredibly lucky, I don’t deserve this, how all this has happened is very confusing for me.” And if they happened to be religious, they might add, “And I thank God for every bit of this every day, and I ask God to give me a grateful heart and the willingness to give back as much as I have received, though it would be nice if I got to keep my nice house.”


Our book Why Couples Fight, by the way, is also about the stupid things people say. In this case, it’s about the stupid things we all say while trying to get our needs met that are completely counterproductive. But we can all do better, and our book shows how. And while it doesn’t show you how to be rich in money, it does show you how to be rich in love.


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