Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Going All the Way in One's Shmuckery

I've never understood people who insist they're right all the time, and who never allow their minds to be changed. Those with a deep stake in their own rightness ought to live for constant correction, because the only way to attain the Pinnacle of Rightness is by having all remaining dabs of wrongness systematically expunged. The conceited ought to thrill at being proven wrong, as it brings them one step closer to their self-image of utter perfection. Plus, what better way to seal the legend on one's grandness than to eagerly accept fresh ideas and publicly renounce faulty ones? Only terribly competent and secure people - studly, admirable, heroic people! - behave this way. So why isn't this a more popular pose?

Similarly, people who want to be seen as tough and menacing ought to act immaculately gracious and deferential. One can best signal one's ability to harm by exaggeratedly declining to do so. This pose is slightly more popular (in fact, its roots go back to ancient times), as I learned while commuting to my first-ever music gig, with a blues band in a crack house in Roosevelt, Long Island. By waving a pedestrian to go ahead and cross in front of my car, I discovered that I had been perceived to have aggressively challenged him. It took years before I was able to unravel the psychology.

Early in my food writing career, I met a famous food writer/editor, who'd attained her lofty position through unimaginable cunning and ambition. I was struck by how down-to-earth this person seemed, but there was a discernible "twist" to her humbleness. A certain sort of modesty broadcasts one's power more effectively than any boast, just as a certain sort of graciousness says "I could effortlessly crush you like a bug...but choose not to."

If those who've decided to act like shmucks would simply take their shmuckdom all the way, the end result would be a more pleasant world.

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