Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Kingdom of the Skull

I like to think I'm generally a pretty smart guy. Sometimes I even have a little more on the ball than usual and those are great days.

I heard some audio of David Foster Wallace's commencement speech to Kenyon College from back in 2005 and it struck me: he's talking to me, too.

That's a damn good commencement speech, there.

One of the things he said, toward the end, was when he was talking about what people worship. He talks not just of religion but of power and money and all the things that make good movies. Here's the  bit that truly struck home:
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings. 
(I need to say right here that you should read the entire speech or watch the video of it. It's absolutely worth your time.)

A lot of days I feel some kind of stupid because I made a mistake or because I sent an email I shouldn't have or  I said something that I didn't really mean to say out loud. Those little things, though, they aren't stupid. They're part of everyday life. Assuming I'm not the center of the universe (there isn't one), I may not even be the center of my world. Sure some stuff revolves around me but believe me when I tell you that the world goes on as it did before if I'm not here.

Each of us can become so wrapped up in ourselves that we lose sight of so many things. You've done it, I've done it, we all have.

And that's when we need Admiral Ackbar to tell us the obvious.

On those days when I feel like a true dumbass, it's because I worship intellect. I value being smart and look for intelligence in those people I surround myself with. That, in itself, is not bad. What's bad is realizing that smart people do really dumb things sometimes. A very good friend has said that about me and it's true. It's true of everyone I know even if I don't know what dumb things you think you've done.

So what if I did dumb things, so what if you did? It's not the end of the world. Really, it's not.

What matters is that we accept them as part of us, file them away and do our damnedest not to repeat them. Or make larger, more destructive mistakes.

The world keeps turning, our loved ones will go on and live their lives after we're gone as will the multitudes around the globe. We are not the center of the universe.

So I won't live in my head, my own little kingdom in my skull, but I will value intellect. I do value intellect. Discourse with other smart people is how I learn things and make myself better, smarter. I bet you do the same thing.

Going forward I will do my best not to get down on myself for not being smarter in a particular situation. I exhort you to do the same. Instead, learn from mistakes and don't fear them. That's where confidence comes from. And arrogance, too, but that's a different post.

Somewhere, every day, millions of times a day, Admiral Ackbar shouts, "It's a trap!"

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