How to Live with an Idiot

Clueless Creatures and the People Who Love Them, by John Hoover
Book cover for How to Live with an Idiot


If you're buying How to Live with an Idiot to throw across the room at your spouse, significant other, sibling, child, parent, friend, coffee-counter clerk, co-worker, boss, or anyone else you've determined is too clueless for words——please, close the book, put it back on the shelf (face out, if you don't mind), and back away slowly. I don't want to be the author of the first literary assault weapon. If you're hoping to discover a way to live with the significant idiots in your life in a more tolerant and forgiving atmosphere, proceed to the cash register.

Reading this book may help you accomplish one or more of the following:

  • You could emerge with a kinder, gentler attitude toward clueless creatures
  • Your kinder, gentler attitude could give the clueless creature(s) in your life incentive and tacit permission to become less clueless
  • You could discover that you're a clueless creature who shouldn't be pointing fingers (oops)
  • Your new attitude could make you serenely unaffected by cluelessness, no matter where it comes from

Many people tell me that living with idiots is frustrating because clueless creatures don't get it. Idiots haven't a clue, I'm told, as to what makes their partners happy. This brings two questions to mind. Do we know what makes our significant idiots happy? I mean, really know? Does our happiness depend on them? I mean, really depend on them? Relationships are hard. Nothing in this book will make them easy.

People have been trying to find a way to change the other people in relationships for as long as eccentric inventors have been trying to invent the perpetual motion machine. No progress to report in either, as far as I know. We can't take other people's medicine for them. I wish we could take the pills, swallow the syrup, do the exercises, join a group, and go to therapy to make them treat us the way we want to be treated. But, we can't. Not directly, anyway.

We can take the pills, swallow the syrup, do the exercises, join a group, go to therapy, and make ourselves feel better. When we feel better, everything feels better. Not perfect, but better. The more okay we are with who we are, the more okay we are with who everybody else is.

It sounds simple. It is and it's not. How to Live with an Idiot is about emotionally enabling ourselves to feel good in relationships; particularly relationships that haven't turned out the way we hoped. The folks on the other side of those relationships will need to decide what they're going to do and how they want to feel. When we start to change, our spouses, significant others, siblings, children, parents, friends, auto mechanics, co-workers, bosses, or whomever, might like it. They might not. We must decide if—for us—it's worth stirring the pot.

A friend of mine described the popularity of How to Work for an Idiot: Survive and Thrive without Killing Your Boss (Career Press 2003) by saying, “We all like our medicine to taste good.” This pithy observation presumes that we feel the need to take medicine in the first place. To this day, despite an avalanche of pop psychology and mood-management medications, a psychologist's ability to change a light bulb still depends on the light bulb's willingness to change.

The response from How to Work for an Idiot readers who got it and reported positive changes in their sense of purpose, perspective, fulfillment, and satisfaction at work indicates there are a lot of light bulbs out there willing, and eager, to change. One woman, who spotted the book in the Feltrinelli bookstore in Rome wrote to tell me she read it twice in the first 48 hours after her purchase and had become a ““…less harassed radiologist since reading your book.” She closed her email with, “complimenti.”

How many arguably clueless authors like me get a “complimenti?” At last, my 12-step program for recovering idiots is beginning to pay international dividends. While Señora radiologist might have appreciated the sugar coating on my medicine, I get a sense that she was sufficiently motivated to improve her working conditions—sugar-coated or not.

The higher the motivation, the more discomfort we'll endure to achieve a positive outcome. How willing and eager are we to change? This medicine is intentionally light-hearted, but proven to work, if taken properly. It seems every advertised diet pill or supplement disclaims, “This product works best when combined with a change in eating habits and exercise.” Duh. Any effort to live a rewarding life despite idiot-ism requires a change in habits and attitude, as well as persistence and infinite patience. Choose your own diet pill.

Nobody said hard work can't be fun and rewarding. How badly do you want to be a “less harassed” spouse, significant other, sibling, child, parent, friend, coffee-counter clerk, co-worker, boss, or person at-large? This could be your opportunity. Enjoy the medicine.