When I come right out and confess how limited my mental capacity is, I do so in a private setting. I consider this message board (or even a small blog) to be private even though it is “public.”
The point I am trying to make is not that I feel “stupid”. I know I am not stupid. I am simply aware of how much I do not know, and that what I have studied has not brought about a tremendous amount of understanding. On the other hand, I am also aware that those who do not even attempt to explore the kinds of things I have looked into are not even dimly aware of their own ignorance, so they may not experience the “limits of their mental capacity” as strongly as I do.
Paradoxically, I walk around feeling “not very bright” … since I continuously stretch my mental faculties to their limits, often becoming frustrated and a little depressed in the process.
When I encourage honesty of this sort, I certainly do not mean to encourage false modesty.
It is just a sad paradox any solitary student will face when venturing on this path alone. Attending some kind of formal setting may boost one’s confidence since one may pick up on things and be able to explain what one understands to one’s peers. Alone though, one does not experience this. One feels always behind the eight ball.
The kind of honesty I propose is about knowing one’s limitations and not competing with others.
I have never been outwardly ambitious, but I have had some intellectual ambitions which have left me feeling as though I will never reach the kind of knowledge and understanding I thought I might have reached by this time in my life.
I remember Schopenhauer telling his readers that it is important for us to know ourselves so that we don’t go around pretending we are something we are not. I would not walk into a boxing ring knowing my opponent could crush me with one blow to the head or a short jab to the ribs. There is no shame in facing our limitations. An animal in the wild does not feel ashamed when it must flee from another animal that can clearly devour it.
Likewise, with intellectual pursuits, we may be curious to just skim the surface of a subject, and then lose interest, or we may truly desire to master a craft only to find that it is just too much for us. I say, take it slow. I say, do not aim to be great. I am not a motivational speaker who is going to tell someone they can be anything they want to be in this world. That is bullshiiittt.
In fact, considering my lowly non-position in society, I guess I have no business advising anyone. How do we measure failure or success? Why is it that some of the brightest minds walk around with a sense of their limitations, while those who do not stretch their minds may walk around with confidence, having never pondered too long over anything too difficult?
The type of honesty I encourage is a very personal and private kind of honesty. It’s the kind of honesty where, were one to be called a “genius”, one would fiercely deny it.
The whole idea of self-esteem is false. We are what we are, and that is all there is to it.
If I proclaim myself to be an idiot, that is not humility! Surely I know that, in comparison to the multitudes, I most likely am more well read and have exposed my brain to some of the higher and deeper levels of thought. Do I judge those who are not inclined to self-education? Well, I guess I can be rather judgemental using terms like gort and drone and sheeple and knuckle-dragger and what not. I never said I was a saint.
I do not live a lie. Nor can I appreciate how much I have learned over the years. Maybe I can be satisfied that I study things that interest me, and I may finally be emotionally mature enough to face the fact that I may never master any craft … but I am still a fairly bright chimpanzee … just not a trained professional cog in the machine.
Maybe every morning I wake up I can remind myself that I am a chimpanzee-like creature. OK, and at the same time I ought to really consider the fact that Schopenhauer and Husserl and Cioran and some other intellectual heroes of mine were also chimpanzee-like creatures.
This exercise is not meant to demean myself or detract from my heroes’ contributions to our species’ private quest to think honestly about our real situation, not to just mouth lines like a parrot so as to secure a position in the social machinery.
I respect what each individual creature endures just in being born. I am not a humanist. I respect all creatures. I respect all intelligence, not just the academic or literate kind.
There may be a bitter resentment that is not easily overcome which arises from spending years studying something difficult only to find oneself no better off than those who did not spend all those hours trying to understand something obscure. So, we just deal with it. If we become bitter over time, so be it. There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s evidently how we are wired.
I just like to explore this kind of thinking because I see a path leading out of total frustration. To use a spiritual term, I see my psychological salvation in an honest appraisal and acceptance of my limitations.
This may enable me to even accept the limitations of all others. We are the products of a great evolutionary accident … a series of accidents … However it feels is how it is. So some of us feel despair and anguish, doubt and confusion. We may refuse to be comforted by the mantras of our societies because we are not after “pleasant feelings” but after authentic feelings.
We want to know how we really feel. Feeling good is not as important to us as knowing how we really feel.
Why do I say We instead of I? Why do I write “us” instead of me???
It’s just the way it comes out. In psychiatric wards those who run the group sessions bully inmates (clients – HA!) into using me statements, I statements.
Sometimes we rebel against such demands. 😉
Besides, fortunately for now, at least when we write on the Internet in a semi-private dialogue, we are not policed by those who want to control our language.