The Stupid Grenade

Posted: October 16, 2010 in Culture, Idle Nonsense

I made a rather startling realization about myself recently. I’ve long known that I have an inveterate self-destruct button. I finally identified one of the reasons why I push the button: the stupid grenade. The stupid grenade is one of those whimsical, metaphorical devices like the ugly stick or the can o’ whoop-ass that describes an all-too-common human condition or behavior. The stupid grenade can manifest lots of places, but its natural milieu is the committee or seminar room. A typical scenario involves a small group responding to questions such as “What do we do about this problem?” or “How about this policy?” or “Where to invest this money?” In the brainstorming session that follows, lots of ideas are shot down handily, but at some point, perhaps unwittingly, some participant will pull the pin and lob the stupid grenade into the middle of the discussion. Someone else contributes to the action by calling the grenade a great idea. It doesn’t get shot down; rather, it sits there ticking away.

Let’s sponsor a writing contest for kids. We’ll have a fill-in-the-blank following the well-known phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It will look like this:

The pen is ______________________.
The pen is ______________________.
The pen is ______________________.
The pen is ______________________.
The pen is ______________________.
The pen is ______________________.

Others besides me may recognize the stupid grenade for what it usually is: a relatively harmless idea that, left to run its course, will eventually explode and get a little of itself on everyone, sort of like egg on the face. So they do the eminently justifiable thing and stay silent, ready and willing to bear their modest share of the detonation.

I, on the other hand, with my self-destruct button operating more like self-sacrifice to the greater good, immediately respond to the ticking grenade by exclaiming, “Look out! It’s a bomb!” and promptly throw myself on the device to smother it. Sure enough, I absorb the full brunt of the explosion, but rather than getting a posthumous medal for recognizing my duty and doing it, others in the room slink away, relieved that it was me, not them, who kept the stupid grenade from getting all over everyone.

In its more virulent forms, the stupid grenade does some real damage, which is why no one will throw him- or herself on it. For instance, someone in those board rooms must have recognized that the idea of buying toxic derivative assets with pension funds was a stupid grenade. And yet, the meme somehow caught on that high-risk, high-return financial instruments with bogus ratings might be just the place to squirrel away everyone’s retirement eggs. (Plans to privatize Social Security are quite similar, though those schemes have received a wide range of public discussion to dispel the idea.) It makes no matter that no one really understood the toxic asset swindle fully, as everyone was jumping on the bandwagon anyway, like lemmings hurling themselves over the cliff. (You’re going full tilt, chasing some other lemming’s stupid ass just before you careen over the precipice to your demise. Maybe the lead lemming gets pushed over the edge by those behind him unable to see.) Had I been in the room, no doubt I would have thrown my body onto the device, but I suspect everyone would have pulled out their concealed weapons and killed me on the spot, letting the stupid grenade tick slowly away until its awful results got on everyone.

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