The Confident Idiot

Confidence and competence are not the same thing.

While this sounds obvious, anyone who’s been in a classroom, office, church meeting, or military setting has encountered the bold, self-assured person who steps forward and tells the people in charge, “I am competent in this area, and I have the answer.”

Swagger and bravado, which we equate with confidence and ability, are usually nothing more than swagger and bravado. Image credit openculture.com
Swagger and bravado, which we equate with confidence and ability, are usually nothing more than swagger and bravado. Image credit openculture.com

Those in the ranks who know him or her recoil silently at this pronouncement, because they are aware of this person’s singular lack of ability in the area in which he pronounces expertise. Oddly, the listening leadership — in that position theoretically because its members are supposed to be wise — frequently falls for the facade, and listens to the talker. Frustratingly for those who know better (and who will feel the primary effects of any decision), the talker is promoted to a position above others.

It becomes a cycle: big talkers, what the business and psychological world fawningly call “extroverts,” move forward because they, well, talk big. More thoughtful, quieter, often honester people, disparagingly referred to as “introverts,” with a shudder as if they suffered some form of disease, are overlooked and overruled because they are “too timid,” “not assertive enough,” “unwilling to take charge and ownership of the situation.”

The Traveler young woman in hat with guidebook in Paris France by Steve Henderson
Truly wise people admit that they don’t know everything. This attitude does not promote advancement in a corporate culture that worships images as opposed to reality, but it does maintain the integrity of the individual who refuses to lie, to himself as well as others. Image: The Traveler, by Steve Henderson

This is the world we live in. So what do we do about it?

The second image accompanying this article contains a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien, the writer who penned the beloved and masterful epic, The Lord of the Rings.

“Not all those who wander are lost,” Tolkien wrote in a poem within his work. These wanderers may look uncertain, they may appear as if they do not know where they are, or even where they are going, but uncertainty does not equal foolishness, in the same way that confidence is not synonymous with ability or knowledge.

Indeed, it is the person who is willing to admit that he does not know everything, who is in the position to learn more. When one is traveling, and one is on an unfamiliar road, it’s not a bad thing to stop, look around, ask questions, consult a map, refrain from random, frenetic activity and give reason a time to speak.

Well, life is a journey, and we are all on unfamiliar roads: not a single human being on this planet can know for certain what is behind the next bend, and actually, not a single human being on this planet can guarantee his or her next breath — no matter how confidently they express their ability to do so.

There is little that we can do about the foolishness of leaders who listen to, and promote, big talkers. But there is much that we can do about our own way of looking at things, and we can decide that we will not be one of these deceptive people, ones who deceive themselves as much or more as they deceive others.

It is virtually guaranteed that, in the corporate and money-worshiping global society being pushed upon us today, we will not move upward and forward with this kind of attitude: honesty and humanity are not virtues valued or rewarded in this system. But we will not damage ourselves.

And if enough people, one by one, would decide that goodness, truth, honesty, and directness are qualities worth pursuing, then such attitudes would become the norm, as opposed to the ones we presently struggle under. The two are not compatible: the values of corporations and people whose primary purpose is to make money and get ahead, and the values of decent ordinary people who simply want to live their lives, love their families, and see others do the same.

If you are wandering, frustrated because you do not know all of the answers, you are not lost. You are on the path to wisdom.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes, where I address the contemporary norms that we accept as truth. But why do we do so? Because we’re taught, from a young age — at school, on TV, in books, at movies, in the workplace, at church — what to think. But who is doing the teaching?

Posts complementing this one, which focus upon 21st century Christianity and the deceptions being taught in its name, are

The Lost Christians of America

Do You Suspect That You Don’t Matter?

It’s Time to Change Our Minds about Repenting