We all worship something, and often it’s the things that we worship that become the albatross around our necks. David Foster Wallace says that if you “Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out”. This has certainly been the case for me. Perhaps, it’s also an indication of what Green calls an “omnidirectional anxiety”.
I’ve learned to allow this anxious dread over my own fraudulence to become a feature rather than a bug. The pervasive sense of my idiocy has transformed into what Eric Wilson describes as a “sign of intellectual grace” and cognitive humility. Instead of wishing to be seen as the smartest person in the room, I enter into every interaction with the assumption that I’m not. In the midst of any discussion I speak with the understanding that, regardless of how well formalized my ideas are, I am very likely wrong. And, I have learned to love being wrong.
Francis Crick says that “the dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it.” Over the years my zealotry has collapsed into curiosity, as I’ve garnered the ability to hold even my most sacred of beliefs with an open hand. I poke and prod all my views in the light of other vantages; knowing that my own perspective is but one color in a kaleidoscope of possible thoughts, and who knows what new fractals of insight might appear if I can bend my line of sight into varying angles. When we can manipulate our militancy into something far more malleable none of our efforts are exhausted on trying to be right, and instead we can focus all of our attention on learning something that we didn’t know before; whether it be about a topic, a person, or, perhaps, more importantly, ourselves.
Most days I still feel stupid and I still feel like a fraud. Old gods die hard, and the ones we worship die even harder I suppose. Somedays, as John Green writes “My thoughts are a river overflowing it’s banks, churning and muddy and ceaseless”, but some days I manage to share a thought with someone and conversation sparks an idea I could have never anticipated. In that moment, we get to see a listless part of who we are to come to life, and that’s a pretty good day, not because I feel smart but because I’m in good company, and that’s better.
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