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

Counselor gives a clue: how to take life with an idiot

By Mark Sauer

October 25, 2004

We've got idiot's guides to computers, investing, automobiles, massage, child rearing, even breast-feeding and sex.

Now there's an idiot's guide to living with an idiot.

Does your layabout husband clean the fish he's caught in the living room? Does he forget (again) to walk the dog so it winds up fouling the rug? Do terms like "moron," "slacker," "imbecile" and "dope" find their way into conversations with your significant other?

You're probably living with an idiot, according to John Hoover.

"You could get a divorce. Or you could get Guido from 'The Sopranos' to come over and whack your idiot," cracks Hoover. "But divorce is no fun, and Guido's not cheap. And the relationship may be worth working on."

Practical solutions, Hoover said, can be found in his book, "How to Live With an Idiot: Clueless Creatures and the People Who Love Them," (Career Press, $14.99).

The book is a fast, fun read, but its message is important.

Hoover is a former marriage counselor with a Ph.D. in human behavior who now consults, teaches and gives lectures on relationships. He said the best tool for dealing with the idiots in our lives is a mirror.

"To paraphrase Pogo," Hoover said in an interview from his Nashville office, "we have met the idiot, and he is us."

If we are contemptuous of spouses or other loved ones in our lives and view them with disdain, the change must come first within ourselves, according to Hoover.

"This book doesn't contain secret methods and techniques for changing the idiots in your life," he writes. "It's about reinventing yourself and thereby making you immune to the idio-t-syncracies.

"As we say in the Methodist-church basement on Thursday nights: 'It's not them, it's me.' "

Hoover, who calls himself a "recovering idiot," said the "distinctive characteristic of an idiot is cluelessness, a person lacking the awareness of how his words and actions affect the people around him."

"Usually, the behavior is innocuous. He never meant to do anyone any real harm," said Hoover, who is also the author of "How to Work for an Idiot."

"Your idiot is inconsiderate. And the thing to remember is, we all have an inner idiot. There comes some point where each of us is clueless."

In six years as a practicing marriage counselor in Orange County, Hoover said, he often heard a wife declare, "It makes me so mad when Harry does this!" He'd ask how long he's been doing it; "she'd say 20 years."

"Expectation is just resentment waiting to happen," Hoover said. "She's lived with Harry 20 years, yet she doesn't know herself as she lives with Harry. You can send Harry to the garage to gut his fish, but you can't act as if it doesn't bother you (when he does it in the living room) and let resentment build and build.

"That's like drinking a cup of poison and waiting for the other person to die. The problem and solution are both within us."

Hoover devotes a significant portion of his book to "asking the animal question."

"What animal does your significant idiot remind you of, and would you have one for a pet?" Hoover writes. Evaluating spouses, siblings, children, in-laws, friends and co-workers this way reveals at least three things:

Is this other person likable in his present state? Is it truly his behavior over time, or your accumulated bias, that led you to choose his alter animal? Which of you is higher on the food chain, you or the idiot?

"The animal you associate with other people says as much about you as it does about them," Hoover writes.

Changing yourself and working to change the significant idiot in your life, Hoover said, requires patience, realism, compromise, honesty and, especially, humor.

"Sigmund Freud said laughter is a release of energy.," Hoover said. "I think it's a release of toxic gas, the kind that will cause you to blow up if you keep it bottled up.

"The subject matter I deal with humorously here is very serious. This stuff ruins people's lives."