Confidence is Overrated

Any discerning reader will note that confidence, that lauded American ‘manly’ trait, didn’t make it onto my list of character qualities, and this reader may be wondering why. The first and foremost reason is that confidence is not a character quality, it is a result of character qualities. Like the man who earned $20 million dollars, we do not respect a man for his confidence in and of itself. We may admire his confidence, we may envy his confidence, but our respect is reserved for the qualities that have lead him to be confident, not for the fact that he is confident. Even when we do not know the reasons for his confidence, our respect is based on the assumption that there is a good reason for it. This is why we ‘fake it ’til we make it’ (a horrible idea by the way), because this faked confidence implies real experience that would normally inspire such confidence.

The second reason that confidence did not make it onto my list is because confidence is situational. We have confidence in those areas in which we have particular skill or expertise. For instance, I have been teaching for almost 4 years, 3 years with the same institution. I have dealt with a variety of difficult students and difficult situations, and I know my subject matter well. In the classroom and in my conversations with students I am very confident. I have been practicing martial arts for 20 years, I am not a small man, and I have been in a few fights. In a fight I am fairly confident. However, I have never had strong social skills, and I’ve had repeated negative experiences with women, so when it comes to wooing a woman, I am not particularly confident. Real confidence depends on how well our knowledge, skills, and past experiences match up with the situation in which we find ourselves. This is because real confidence is based in real skills and real experiences.

Self-esteem may be differentiated from confidence in that it is not based in real skills or real experiences. Self-esteem is, in common practice, based on the viewpoints of others, and often one’s self-esteem is most affected by those acquaintances who know one the least. This is because people tend to assume that someone who does not know them well will have little reason to lie when giving their opinion (generally this is often not true), but that opinion is also based on an extremely limited experience of the individual in question. Thus, these two bastions of the American mindset are both built on faulty ground. Self-esteem does not encourage a right view of oneself (i.e. humility), and confidence is based on the situation and one’s skills.

Confidence is, however, generally a boost both to oneself and to others. It is good to feel confident in oneself and what one is doing, and it is easier to follow someone who is confident. However, confidence¬†should be a reflection of one’s actual ability to handle a situation, not a reflection of one’s ability to fake one’s way through life. Confidence is born out of courage, endurance, devotion, the skills that those character qualities have allowed one to develop, and the experiences that have tested them. True confidence is the child of strong character, not a part of it.

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Seriously?!

What is wrong with you people?! I am doing my best to keep my post count above my follower count, and you people keep following me. I do not understand this in any conceivable way, but it is a serious amount of work to keep up. I get my post count up, and then a bunch of new followers appear. It’s really very annoying. Anyway… jerks… okay, I really am done now.

I just read yesterday’s post and realized that I seriously need to take my own advice. I think it was a good post, a little ‘high and mighty’, but the ideas in it are solid. Here’s the thing though, I talk about doing hard things, and being confident in things that we’ve earned, working hard, developing a legitimate, realistic confidence instead of the insecure confidence that so many of us live with. All of these are good things, necessary things, things that we should be doing. The thing is, a lot of the time I don’t.

I’m just as American as anyone else, and just as insecure as any other American. I like to be comfortable, and I hate feeling like I’m less than someone else. I want my confidence to be validated, and that the problem. Real confidence doesn’t need to be validated, it understands what it is and where it stands. I love being right, and I love being respected, and I love it when people listen to me, but when I have to be the one who does the listening… too often I try to avoid it.

This is the ridiculous part. I’m finally getting to a point where I’m happy, where I actually like myself, and yet all too often I still want others to validate me. To some degree I think this is natural. We all want to be liked, respected, validated, etc, but when that becomes my focus and I avoid doing the hard things… then really I stop growing.

This summer has been hard so far, and I think that’s a good thing, but God still has to make me do hard things. He still has to force me into them, even though I encourage other people to do the hard things. In the end… I’m a hypocrite. However, I’m hoping to change that, little by little.

4th of July

Happy 4th of July… late… I actually wrote this on the 4th. May the Lavicius, monkey god of wealth and avarice, bless you!… … Yeah, I’m not really big on holidays, and I can’t say that I’m extremely patriotic either. This country has a ton of problems that we don’t want or just can’t address, and the thing is, I completely understand why, and why there isn’t much that I can do about it. John the Baptist was referred to as a ‘voice crying out in the wilderness’ and sometimes I have to admit that I feel the same way… not that I compare to John the Baptist, but this feeling I understand. I see the problems, and I see ways that we could fix them, or at least steps towards fixing them, but no one listens to me.

Today, I was having a conversation with one of my students concerning matters of justice and how the justice system should work. Honestly, I generally agree with the position my student was taking. However, she wasn’t really thinking through her position. She couldn’t provide solid arguments to support her positions, and she had nothing in the way of evidence. So I took the other side of the issue. My student made the comment that she felt like she was in a debate, and I pointed out that she was.

Talking over opinions is all well and good, but if we can’t support those opinions with well-reasoned arguments and provide at least some sources to back up our claims, then all we’re really doing is talking over our beliefs without actually showing any ability to defend those beliefs. All too often reasoned argument is limited to academic forums, and it shouldn’t be. We need to be able to make and support strong arguments in our daily lives.

If we can’t do this with basic things, then can we really be surprised that the public forum is filled with random, uninformed, undefended opinions, or that we seem to be utterly insecure as a nation? This is the question I keep coming back to. We do so much to build up confidence and self-esteem without actually driving people to do anything to earn these things. Confidence is important, sure. But if a person is confident in something that they have no actual ability to achieve, then is their confidence actually worth anything?

To give an extreme example, how many people have jumped off of buildings high on something and absolutely confident that they could fly? Confidence that is achieved through action is worth something. Confidence that is achieved through overcoming difficulties, through hard work, through invested time, all worthwhile. However, confidence that is illusory is just damaging. I have so many students who can’t write well, but are completely confident in their own excellence. This is one of the most difficult things that I have to deal with. Now, I’m no slouch at writing, and I’m fairly confident in my abilities, but I’m also no Stephen King or Alvin Plantinga.

If we were a little less confident, and a little more willing to pursue things that are difficult, then maybe we’d have a stronger confidence in who and what we are.