Monday, December 31, 2018

Being Smart vs Feeling Smart

If you have a deep-seated conviction that you suck (perhaps so deep-seated that it only reveals itself indirectly, e.g. by undermining your efforts and your peace of mind), there are two courses you can take:

1. Work on the conviction


2. Work on the sucking

These are very divergent pathways. You can feel smart, or you can be smart. The eternal choice.

I'm guessing I don't need to point out the more popular approach. It doesn't help that therapists are paid by their patients, who wouldn't much appreciate being told to "work on the sucking." Another factor is that we are all wealthy aristocrats (you, yes you, are unimaginably wealthy), with all the vapid Mrs. Howell-ish ditzery this involves. And so we live in a conviction-tinkering culture rife with unabated suckage.

Among other things, this accounts for the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which observes that dumb people feel smart (because they don't recognize their dumbness) and smart people feel dumb (because they recognize their gaps and doubts).

Me? I chose #2. I worked on the sucking. As I once wrote:
I like to be told that I'm being an idiot. This helps me be less of an idiot.

By contrast, most people recoil quite strongly from acknowledging to themselves any idiocy in their thought or behavior . They'd much rather be idiots than feel like idiots.

It's taken me a very long time to learn not to apply the golden rule on this one. As an extreme edge case, I must not treat people the way I prefer to be treated.
I grew up amid smart-feelers and conviction tinkerers. So I am extraordinarily proud of myself for finding and pursuing the other route. It's the only accomplishment I can boast about, because it's the only one where I drew no help or inspiration from any other soul. And it was hard – really hard - and went against all my impulses (it certainly wasn’t the expedient path to Planet Feelgood). But I would be a completely different person if I hadn't.

I still don't feel smart - at all - and I absolutely still suck (e.g. I must endlessly relearn the same essential lessons), but I nurture these sentiments. They're my furnace.

See also "Truth and Curiosity"

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