I usually don’t go on philosophical tangents, preferring to narrate some terribly embarrassing experiences of mine instead. But today I’m feeling a bit whimsical, so please entertain me.
As Shakespeare once had famously written, “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.” And as those very self-important players, we tend to view our own role as being the most important in whatever situation or drama that we find ourselves in. After all, we do play the leading role in our own lives. And whether or not we are taking direct action in shaping our own fate, we always are aware of the personal consequences of inaction. We normally view our own misfortune and anguish as far more pressing and tragic than if the same were to happen to others.
Although we have gained the virtue of empathy, we remain and will always be the center of our own intellectual universes. Indeed, we often like to think that we are the most powerful, intelligent, and invulnerable beings that have ever graced the planet. For instance, if you imagined yourself in the plot of some gruesome horror movie, you would most likely see yourself as the gritty, intelligent protagonist who eventually bests the odds and vanquishes the monster (If that ever happens in horror movies).
It is for this reason that our ego is so bitingly stung whenever our own superior intelligence and capabilities either come under harsh scrutiny or are compared to a worthy opponent’s. Let us examine the following circumstances, shall we?
In terms of harsh scrutiny, such a scenario would occur in a classroom setting. The teacher, being a tremendously well-read man, will ask his students a question to which no one knows the answer. And once he has done so, he will be met with ominous silence, as dozens of intelligent young minds attempt to craft a logical answer and tragically fail, making themselves look like fools instead. Yes, occasionally, there is some mind far brighter than the rest, but really. How often does that occur?
And so, the first undermining of our immense self-importance is ignorance and having someone older than you point it out. The humiliation and anger we experience at being corrected or incorrect can be assuaged by a healthy understanding of our own limitations. Additionally, we should be unafraid to learn from our previous mistakes, so that, perhaps, we may be the shining star at some point. At that same question, your hand will shoot up from the masses, and you shall bellow the answer in the utmost glory of being the brightest (Unless you still have the answer wrong. In which case, that would be really embarrassing).
In the second scenario where our self-confidence is undermined, a superior and worthy opponent causes you to lose faith in your abilities, leading you to self-doubt and dissatisfaction. Now, this person could be doing this either knowingly or unknowingly. But the intentions of the said individual are unimportant. What is important is your reaction to it. If we respond with despair, anger, bitterness, or envy, then we essentially guarantee ourselves negative feelings and stress. If, however, we strive to commend our friend’s superior skills and come to terms with the fact that we are imperfect, we have better chances at sparing ourselves from some grief and developing a more positive outlook.
Therefore, from what I’ve gathered from my spontaneous musings, the only to mitigate the ego-wounding effects of ignorance and competition is to develop humility, or a modest outlook of your own skills. This way, you will not feel stung whenever your own intelligence or skills come into question or if you encounter an individual whose skills may trump your own. In essence, hurrah for humility!