headshot of George Dinwiddie with books he's written

iDIA Computing Newsletter

October 2023

I'm Not A Complete Idiot

I'm not a complete idiot; some parts are missing.

As a general rule, you can trust that nothing is ever completely anything. This can be discouraging when you're aiming for perfection, but it's a relief when you consider the human tendency to make mistakes. Those mistakes can't ruin everything.

Keeping this in mind can be helpful when you make a mistake or things don't go the way you want. It doesn't mean that you're a bad person. It means that you should reevaluate your current situation and decide on your best path forward from where you are rather than from where you'd like to be.

The same attitude works for other people, too. When someone says or does something you don't like, it doesn't mean that they're not worthy as a person.

People make mistakes. Can you forgive them this mistake, this time?

People act out of ignorance. Everything you know, you learned some time in the past. Before you learned it, you couldn't act on the basis of that knowledge. The same is true for other people, also.

They can learn...

People act out of old patterns they learned at some time that may not represent their current best choices.

They can learn...

I won't discuss here what state of mind I was in when I made this discovery, but in that state of mind I realized that I couldn't prevent unpleasant memories from popping into my consciousness. I felt unable to hide from the times when I was disappointed in my own behavior, when I hadn't acted in the way that I would like to act.

Times when I had let a friend down, or unintentionally insulted them myself. Times when I felt an irrational distrust of a stranger because they looked different from me. Times when I trotted out an old joke whose punch line depends on awful stereotypes. And worse.

Confronted with these memories, I made the choice to not try to deny them to myself. I didn't have to like them, but I had to live with them.

I still don't like them, but I'm not afraid of my past. Instead, I've learned to use past disappointments in myself as guidance for the future.

Some of these past disappointments had a good side to them, given the assumptions I was under at the time. Now I make different assumptions, see the world differently, and can make better choices.

I can learn...

Given that all of us are flawed, and even our flaws are flawed, we can let ourselves off the hook when our flaws pop into our view.

Cognitive dissonance between conflicting beliefs often produces ego defenses and triggers cognitive biases. These typically insulate us from learning. Accepting our flaws as flaws in an otherwise worthy person reduces the sting of cognitive dissonance. We can accept the truth of our flaws without a fatal blow to our self-esteem.

What is the opposite of "only human?" Triumphantly human? Gloriously human? Or maybe "completely human."

Bravery is not lack of fear, but acting in the face of fear. Being a worthy human is not lack of flaws, but doing the best we can in spite of our flaws. It's learning to do better in the future. If not for human flaws, there would be no glory in rising above them.

I'm a whole person. This is true even as I continue to get to know myself better. As I continue to learn, I gain insights that allow me to make better choices, and to act in ways that are less disappointing. I continue to become more fully human, stretching myself toward my potential.

/signed/ George

P.S. Please help me out.

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