Embrace Your Ignorance
More than once, the stuff that’s come out of my mouth has made people roll their eyes.
Once, a posh person even called me “incorrigible.” But not in a cool, rakish, “Oh, David, the things you say . . . “ kind of way.
It was more “For God’s sake, will you please shut up?”
I deserved it. We were playing Trivial Pursuit.
Let me explain.
You know that guy, who – when it’s your turn, and you don’t know the answer, but he does – has to squirm in his chair and say, “Ooooh, ooh! I know! It’s Suleiman II!! How do you not know that?”
I’m that guy.
In a future post, I’ll share the story of how I got my humiliating comeuppance – on national television, no less – for being such a pain in the ass.
But for now, I’ll get to the point.
When we try too hard to look smarter than other people – we come off looking like idiots. We use acronyms, jargon, and obscure language to make ourselves seem clever. Unfortunately, it has exactly the opposite effect.
What’s worse, we often claim to know far more than we do – and assert ourselves with WAY more confidence than our knowledge or experience merits. The really scary thing is that when we do that, we’re often not even aware that we’re faking.
As David Dunning of Cornell University has pointed out, our blags stem unconsciously from our image of ourselves. In other words, in our desire to seem informed, we convince ourselves we know what we’re talking about – even when we most definitely don’t.
If you’re talking politics over dinner, this is merely annoying. But if you’re making decisions that affect real people, it’s downright dangerous.
So what can we do about it?
First, slow down – when it comes time to express a point of view, compare what you think you know with what you actually know. Ask yourself, “what am I basing this assertion on?” Ask people around you for different points of view – and actually listen before making up your mind.
Next, be willing to challenge. When your Bullshit Bingo card gets full, call people on it. Insist that others explain themselves clearly and without jargon.
Finally, when you don’t know something, admit it and view it as an opportunity to learn. A moment’s embarrassment is far less costly than a bad decision.