It’s Not All That Clever, Kent

 

I’ve known people whose assessment of their abilities was, let’s say, somewhat imperfect. I once knew a professor, for instance, who thought she was the Second Coming of Maria Montessori, and she told us so, every week or so, in the departmental coffee room. In reality, she was one of the worst teachers I’ve ever known. I would pass by her classroom and she would be on a tirade about something or another, way off the topic. She would berate her students regularly, and her voice was a screech.

There is sometimes a downside to poor self knowledge. When I was a young man, I knew a pool player who vastly overestimated his skill. I was managing a pool hall at the time, and I watched this poor sap get taken to the cleaners regularly by pool players he shouldn’t have been gambling with. The guy would lose most of his paycheck the first of every month.

This lack of self-knowledge even has a name: the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a bias in which a person, usually one of low abilities, overestimates his knowledge or ability.

If other people can be wrong in their estimation of their abilities, that means that I can also be wrong about mine. In fact, an episode from my past seems to indicate that this is so.

My workplace for 28 years was the 7th floor of Faculty Hall in a Kentucky university. It was an insular setting, full of pampered English professors who had worked there for years. In one of the petty feuds that went on there with some regularity, one of my colleagues satirized me in print, quite wittily I’ll have to admit, and distributed that satire around the department. (I had annoyed him by saying something mean to his harridan of a wife, who was also an English professor.)

I spent hours concocting a response until I was certain that my well-honed wit was going to eviscerate this guy, leaving him flailing about, confused and humiliated.

I was so proud of my response that before I sent it out, I rushed next door to show it to an older professor, a man whose judgement I greatly admired. After he spent more time than I thought was necessary in reading it (I was hovering), he finally looked up and uttered six words that irreparably damaged that fragile spot in my psyche that is normally reserved for compliments and attaboys: “It’s not all that clever, Kent.”

It’s not all that clever. Damn, I had thought it terribly clever, but I also trusted the old professor. Could it be that I had been overestimating my cleverness all these years?

No, no, certainly not. All of us are certain that we are self aware and accurate in our assessment of our own abilities. I certainly am. But the bad teacher and the poor pool player were also certain of their abilities.

I might regularly write pure drivel, devoid of wit and sense (including this very post), and not know it. In fact, by extension, you too might write drivel and not know it.

I know that some of you, in an earlier post, found the rationale that I came up with to support my vegetarianism diet terribly flawed. And despite my belief that I think I’m knowledgeable about spelling and grammar, I hardly ever write a post without some kind of niggling error. In fact, in my last post, I spelled the country of Chile as “Chili” — a small error no doubt, but ominous. One time I misinterpreted a Biblical passage and one of you, I won’t say who, called me on it.

Here’s what worries me even more: I’m 81 so the inevitable mental decline due to age is probably setting in. I’m probably whistling in the graveyard when I insist to Marie the wife that I’m almost sure that I will retain my mental acuity for as long as I live. That annoys Marie, I don’t know why, probably because I’m so cocky about it, so she tells me that I’m already beginning to lose it. I think she’s joking.

I have a friend who spent her final five or six years with Alzheimer’s. In her last couple of years, she lost her ability to read and write and didn’t recognize her children. Her caretakers would sometimes find her folding clothes that had already been sorted and folded. This could go on for hours. It seemed to annoy the caretakers, but my friend seemed almost serene. I think she retained a comforting memory of being useful when, long ago in her married life, she folded her children’s clothes.

Back to my thesis: Because humans need to protect their self worth, and because of the frailties of the human mind, we can never be certain that what our assessment of our abilities is accurate.

Postscript One: I’d better say here that I am fully aware that I have previously used that department feud episode in a post. I wouldn’t normally mention that because you’ve probably either forgotten it (I used it over two years ago) or didn’t read it. But Arahant remembers everything that goes on on Ricochet. He therefore might take the repetition of the episode as a sign of my mental decline. So forget it, Arahant. Everything is copacetic.

Postscript Two: Remember that bad teacher I began this essay with. She’s in her late eighties now and still teaching. She has two things on her side: age and sex. An employee can no longer be let go because of her age. Besides, when the university tried to fire her awhile back, she sued on the basis of sex discrimination. She won. They’re now afraid of her. So they’re stuck with her until she dries up and blows away.

Postscript Three: On an unrelated note, here’s a photo I took of Bob early this morning as I was writing this post. I looked back and Bob had wrapped himself up the way you see him. I don’t know how he did it. Is that a clever dog?

By the way, I’m pretty certain that when I am reduced to little more than drool and drivel, Bob will still think that I’m the greatest person in the world. Dogs don’t care how many consecutive points we can score in three-cushion billiards.

Published in General

Comments are closed on this post.

This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 54 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Epiphanies of self awareness can be pretty funny if total embarrassment is not part of it.  I thought I had a poker face until some time in my 50’s when I realized it was readily interpreted as a “you’re a dumba**” face by the recipient.

    • #1
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
    An’ ev’n devotion!

    To a Louse by Robert Burns

    Which I came across not in an English  class but most likely through Felix Unger on the Odd Couple, although I can’t find the episode at the moment.

    • #2
  3. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    More often than I used to, I find myself re-reading my online comments and posts several times before I hit the button that sends it off. Every site isn’t as forgiving as this one, with the ability to edit. 

    • #3
  4. Slow on the uptake Thatcher
    Slow on the uptake
    @Chuckles

    KentForrester: One time I misinterpreted a Biblical passage and one of you, I won’t say who, called me on it. 

    There was. a bible verse I used to quote frequently, until a friend said he really liked it and wanted to use it, so would I please give him the reference:  It may have been a principle taught in Scripture, but when I searched I discovered that the verse simply did not exist.

    • #4
  5. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
    An’ ev’n devotion!

    To a Louse by Robert Burns

    Which I came across not in an English class but most likely by by Felix Unger on the Odd Couple, although I can’t find the episode at the moment.

    Perfect. I wish I had thought of it.

    • #5
  6. Slow on the uptake Thatcher
    Slow on the uptake
    @Chuckles

    Have been given several opportunities to fall flat on my face and, with nary a giggle from the audience, succeeded admirably.

    It seems that either time wounds all heels, or else that some of us are just slow learners.  Sometimes both, I suppose.

    • #6
  7. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    More often than I used to, I find myself re-reading my online comments and posts several times before I hit the button that sends it off. Every site isn’t as forgiving as this one, with the ability to edit.

    Welcome to the party, Phil.

    • #7
  8. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    Which I came across not in an English class

    My mom left me a book of poems and a VCR of Robert Burns.

    • #8
  9. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    KentForrester: One time I misinterpreted a Biblical passage and one of you, I won’t say who, called me on it.

    There was. a bible verse I used to quote frequently, until a friend said he really liked it and wanted to use it, so would I please give him the reference: It may have been a principle taught in Scripture, but when I searched I discovered that the verse simply did not exist.

    Ha ha.  I did a similar thing in a Quote of the Day post a few months ago.  

    • #9
  10. Slow on the uptake Thatcher
    Slow on the uptake
    @Chuckles

    PS:  Give Bob a scratch for me.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    PS: Give Bob a scratch for me.

    I will, Mr. Uptake.  And a “Who’s a good boy?”  as well. 

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!

    Some years ago, back in the last millennium, I started a business, and I was looking for ways to find more clients. I happened to meet a consultant who said he could help with that. As part of “helping,” he suggested an assessment where one part was to rate words or terms as to whether you thought they applied to you and then as you thought others thought they applied to you. I believe it was a five-point scale. I was going through this thing, and came to one word where I laughed. The word was “commanding.”

    Now, my wife happened to be sitting beside me. We have long had an office with desks side by side. She asked what I was laughing about, so I told her about the test and coming across the word “commanding” on the test. I think I was rating myself as about a one out of five. She didn’t laugh. She just stared at me?

    “What?” I asked.

    “You have a very commanding presence.”

    “What? Who? Me?”

    She considered for a moment, “You know how the church annual meetings have always gone before?”

    “Well, yeah.”

    “And you might have noticed how the annual meeting went last week with you in charge?”

    “Psht! That’s not because I’m commanding. I simply know how to run a meeting. The last meeting was run by Mitchell, and he can’t even read.[1]”

    Again, she just stared at me.

    “Trust me. It’s your commanding presence. None dared to go against you.”

    Thus, I marked how others see me as a 5. This showed in the results. The consultant asked, “Now what about this variation?”

    “Well, I mentioned it to my wife, and…”

    He shook his head, “Never ask your wife’s opinion.”


    1. This is not an exaggeration. The previous president of the church’s board had been an illiterate. He was a definite example of the Dunning Kruger Effect, plus he so wanted to be liked. He had nominated himself to be on the board, and nobody else wanted to be on it (very dysfunctional organization at the time), so he got on the board. Then he had nominated himself for president of the board, and none of the other board members had wanted it… Also, name changed to protect the poor guy.
    • #12
  13. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KentForrester: I’m 81 so the inevitable mental decline due to age is probably setting in. I’m probably whistling in the graveyard when I insist to Marie the wife that I’m almost sure that I will retain my mental acuity for as long as I live. That annoys Marie, I don’t know why, probably because I’m so cocky about it, so she tells me that I’m already beginning to lose it.

    The best thing is to assume you have lost it and that it’s a good thing.

    • #13
  14. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I’m 81 so the inevitable mental decline due to age is probably setting in. I’m probably whistling in the graveyard when I insist to Marie the wife that I’m almost sure that I will retain my mental acuity for as long as I live. That annoys Marie, I don’t know why, probably because I’m so cocky about it, so she tells me that I’m already beginning to lose it.

    The best thing is to assume you have lost it and that it’s a good thing.

    Interesting idea, Arahant.  The more oblivious we are, the better off we are.  I’ll have to keep that in mind as I begin to lose it. 

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Think of all the things you can lose in life: unhappiness, troubled memories, regrets, anger, hate. There is so much that we really should lose.

    • #15
  16. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Think of all the things you can lose in life: unhappiness, troubled memories, regrets, anger, hate. There is so much that we really should lose.

    Have you been reading Schopenhauer again?

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Have you been reading Schopenhauer again?

    Nope. I don’t need to read many things again. Some I want to read again, but Schopenhauer is not among them.

    • #17
  18. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Humility and accurate self-appraisals are for losers.

    • #18
  19. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential
    @GLDIII

    Always end with Bob, and you are almost a guaranteed a Main Feed promotion.

    Good old Bob.

    • #19
  20. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    KentForrester: I have a friend who spent her final five or six years with Alzheimer’s. In her last couple of years, she lost her ability to read and write and didn’t recognize her children. Her caretakers would sometimes find her folding clothes that had already been sorted and folded. This could go on for hours. It seemed to annoy the caretakers, but my friend seemed almost serene. I think she retained a comforting memory of being useful when, long ago in her married life, she folded her children’s clothes. 

    Not to dis any caretakers as I’m sure they had the best intentions, but why would anyone be upset at anything an Alzheimer’s suffer does that is not harmful to themselves or others. It seems that any occupation that keeps them satisfied with life and isn’t harmful should be appreciated, just sayin’.

    Now back to reading your fascinating post ;>)

     

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I am certain that my self-image differs from others. I’m reminded of that fact all the time. I think that’s a good thing. Mostly.

    • #21
  22. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I’m 81 so the inevitable mental decline due to age is probably setting in. I’m probably whistling in the graveyard when I insist to Marie the wife that I’m almost sure that I will retain my mental acuity for as long as I live. That annoys Marie, I don’t know why, probably because I’m so cocky about it, so she tells me that I’m already beginning to lose it.

    The best thing is to assume you have lost it and that it’s a good thing.

    Interesting idea, Arahant. The more oblivious we are, the better off we are. I’ll have to keep that in mind as I begin to lose it.

    Just don’t forget, to keep it in mind that is.

    • #22
  23. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I am certain that my self-image differs from others. I’m reminded of that fact all the time. I think that’s a good thing. Mostly.

    I picture you as very tall.

    • #23
  24. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Mr. Forrester, speaking as an elder (today’s my 82nd birthday) and paraphrasing our much revered previous president, with regard to your post title; I would say that “you are clever enough.” But, seriously, I do enjoy reading each of your posts and I suspect that you have a pretty accurate self-assessment. Just keep the Bob photos coming.

    BTW, the memory problems don’t necessarily begin at age eighty; for some of us it starts much earlier.

    • #24
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Arahant (View Comment):
    I picture you as very tall.

    Ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

    • #25
  26. Antisocial-Introvert Member
    Antisocial-Introvert
    @ctregilgas

    I always enjoy your drivel, Kent. Especially when it’s accompanied by a picture of Bob the dog.

    (2 comments in 1 month! I am exhausted.)

    • #26
  27. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Humility and accurate self-appraisals are for losers.

    Ha ha. 

    • #27
  28. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    I am most vulnerable to overestimating my abilities when I’ve drunk a lot of coffee. Later in the day, I might repent of having hit “Send” or “Publish.” 

    • #28
  29. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    Mr. Forrester, speaking as an elder (today’s my 82nd birthday) and paraphrasing our much revered previous president, with regard to your post title; I would say that “you are clever enough.” But, seriously, I do enjoy reading each of your posts and I suspect that you have a pretty accurate self-assessment. Just keep the Bob photos coming.

    BTW, the memory problems don’t necessarily begin at age eighty; for some of us it starts much earlier.

    Darn, Jim, do you have to remind me that I’m in third place, behind you and Kay of MT?  The old fogies of Ricochet.

    In the meat world, we’d be merely pathetic.  But in the digital world, we can pass. 

    • #29
  30. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    Always end with Bob, and you are almost a guaranteed a Main Feed promotion.

    Good old Bob.

    You’ve found me out, GLDIII.  

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed.