Wednesday, September 28, 2005

More on the Art of Looking Stupid

The second practical tip to help you look stupid (please recognize the slight irony in all of this) is this: tell someone of your fallibility. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Just try it. You’ll find a freeing sensation in doing so, like the lights went on in a little district of your soul that was in darkness. Go ahead, tell someone how you messed up, how you looked stupid, how you answered a question wrong. Tell them the real reason you got turned down. Maybe you’re not good looking enough. That’s okay. Life will go on. We’re not all Tom Cruise or Halle Berry. We should admit that. We couldn’t all have gotten into Harvard, and it’s not just because we fit a familiar profile. Some of us just aren’t smart enough. That’s fine! We’re not all geniuses. We couldn’t all have made the team. Many of us didn’t make the team for good reason. We were too slow, or too weak, or just plain not skilled enough. That’s fine. We’re not all athletes. Why, goes the question, should we pretend we are something when we are not? We shouldn’t, and should actually take steps to avoid doing so.

Parents, teachers, ministers, politicians, siblings, and so many others do much to gain our credibility when they discard the pretension that they do not err and embrace their faillibility. Of course, many people think they do this. Here’s how it’s often packaged, however. They know they’re fallible in theory, but in practice, they just can’t seem to think of concrete examples that show their fallibility. For every action, there is a reaction, and it usually involves the art of “explaining-away.” I’ve noticed with sharp people that the very first response to challenge or correction is to offer, often at light speed, an excuse, denial, or cover-up. These take the rightful place of a thoughtful silence, a mulling over, perhaps a humble follow-up question, and then a sincere admission of wrongdoing. So often when we’re confronted in peaceful concern we take up the weapons of self-defense and fight until we’ve bloodied the other person a bit. We know we’re wrong, of course, but that does little to ease the frustration and anger we feel at having our weaknesses and shortcomings exposed. So we battle back, thinking we retain some pride in the process, and we lose the opportunity given us to personally grow and find freedom from false perfection.

To close this post, the one who takes the opportunity to look stupid is in fact the one who, in the eyes of honest people, looks the best. We see this proven true with children. They see much, including the good and bad of their parents, and they are much more likely to trust and follow a parent who admits wrong. In humility is gain. In stupidity is wisdom.


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