“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Socrates
Life “in the days of COVID-19” continuously and everywhere (news, social networks, TV) exposes us to people who impose their ideas and consider them absolute truths. They also address the others as ignorant and incompetent, even if in reality, that’s not true at all.
This behaviour has been scientifically studied and has a name: Dunning-Kruger Effect. What is it?
It is a cognitive bias that leads people with fewer skills and knowledge to think they know more than others. The less they know, the more they think they know.
This study has a funny origin.
In the mid-90s in the city of Pittsburgh, a 44-year-old man committed two robberies in broad daylight without covering his face. He was quickly recognised and arrested. They later discovered that he had not hidden his face because he thought that the lemon juice, which had spread over his face before the robbery, would make him invisible.
When David Dunning, a social psychology professor at Cornell University, learned this news, he began to wonder if incompetence can make us unaware of how incompetent we are. So, he started a series of experiments with his colleague Justin Kruger; this is a study that originated the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The two psychologists experimented and analysed the competence of some people in grammar, logical reasoning and humour. They asked them to estimate their level of expertise and then carried out tests to assess it.
They noticed that the more incompetent a person was, the less he was aware of it. While the more competent people even underestimated themselves.
There is, therefore, a distorted perception of reality. We all can fall for it, some more than others…but how can we get out of it? Well, in the way I’ve always supported:
- Keep an open mind;
- Have doubts;
- Read and research, inquire!
- And, above all, learning to express one’s opinion, respecting and listening to others, without imposing anything as if it were the absolute truth.
Let’s first make sure that we are not the ignorant-arrogant people ourselves; that said, we must also protect ourselves from these people and not allow them to manipulate us in any way.
How can we defend ourselves against ignorant, arrogant people?
The question has been going through my head since the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis. I’ve been searching, and I understood that:
Our greatest weapon is assertiveness.
- Assertiveness is the attitude, in any situation, to clearly define our position, to make it known, to defend it without aggressiveness, admitting different perspective from others. It manifests itself through a predisposition to listen, combined with a clear exposition of one’s point of view.
Assertiveness is the only useful answer when faced with aggressive and arrogant people. I don’t know about you, but I’m meeting a lot of them! Especially on the web.
I am training myself in the “assertive style”, to avoid verbal confrontation, to express my opinions in a respectful manner, to point out to the other that his/her ideas are not absolute truth and, beyond the COVID-19, to set up interpersonal relationships in a constructive way.
I like this exercise because it allows me to express myself in a clear, direct and straightforward way, avoiding the use of prejudices and generalisations.
And above all, it guides me to have the answer ready, when I need it!
Assertive behaviour includes:
- Being open in expressing wishes, thoughts and feelings and encouraging others to do likewise.
- Listening to the views of others and responding appropriately, whether in agreement with those views or not.
- Accepting responsibilities and being able to delegate to others.
- Regularly expressing appreciation of others for what they have done or are doing.
- Being able to admit to mistakes and apologise.
- Maintaining self-control.
- Behaving as equal to others.
In short, I think that the person who uses this style of communication takes responsibility for his or her own mistakes can constructively accept criticism without diminishing the self-esteem of the other.
I also think that we all have a great need to rediscover the concept of respect which seems to me to be missing recently. I read a lot and, often, I do not find respect in the articles of journalists (or allegedly such) dealing with issues related to the current health crisis. I also see no respect in the speeches of some of the State Leaders. What I find is an incredible ethical void.
I am not going to argue about the origin of the ethical void, I do not have the slightest competence, but I must say that the subject fascinates me. My first thought, as a mother and as a pragmatic person, goes to my children. I see an essential crisis in pedagogy, and I cannot help but connect the two elements.
Is it possible that this ethical void has led parents to give up their role as educators? Surely there are other causes, and they are all valid: exhausting working hours, lack of support from the extended family, hyper-evaluation of technologies, confusion of social roles, lack of listening, lack of family support policies, etc.
However, I think that the origin of this deficiency is the lack of willingness (or inability) to take responsibility. I see this attitude of passing on one’s duties or blaming others for one’s failings. This negative behaviour starts with a lack of respect for oneself and others.
My goal as a mother is to raise my children using two values: respect and kindness. I am continually fighting against a thousand windmills that society sets me, but I will not give up! Mothers are responsible twice: for their generation and the next generation. But this is also a great privilege.
One last thought: it seems that this article is a haphazard flow of ideas! Well, maybe this is the demonstration that I know I know nothing and my mind wanders; therefore, I am not affected by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, objective reached!
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