Our friends already know that my extraordinary wife Catherine and I have been facing down a frightening health challenge lately. She was hospitalized a few months ago, and again more recently, for comparatively minor complications to a previously undiagnosed and life threatening disease for which there is no cure, only management. To be clear, we can do a lot to improve her condition, give her more options, vitality, resilience and way more fun as well, and we’ve both been studying hard and making all sorts of adjustments, to get better at responding to the day to day situation. But you can’t mess around with mere opinion at such times, you need to deal with immediate verifiable physical reality.
One of the most shocking things that happened along the way, was watching people who had long pretended to be on our side, reveal themselves to be treacherous idiots, while others who had seemed uninterested for just as long, offered us genuine and precious encouragement, deep empathy and support.
Some people seem to think that disease is something we can easily leave behind by an act of will, if we just “Get out there!” As if fatigue and depression are the cause, rather than the inevitable result of serious physical challenges and years of sacrifice and frustrating limitations. Denial isn’t uncommon in the face of a hard truth, but being faced with such profoundly contemptuous reasoning, delivered in so casual and practised a way, was incredibly hurtful all the same. Truly, the very opposite of empathy and understanding – proud of it, too.
But as I thought more about the question, I remembered one of my favourite lines of wisdom. “Affection does not produce capacity.” Just because we like someone and want to include them in something profound and important, that doesn’t mean that they are capable of sharing all of the things we’d like to share with them. Solidarity in a time of serious illness is a big ask, especially for people whose focus has always been inward.
And then I started thinking about the other part – people who are sure that they know things, when they’ve actually invented their entire viewpoint, in order to justify the answer that they’d long before decided they wanted to get to. Again, this sort of reasoning is not uncommon – but in this case I can absolutely pronounce the result to be purest and yet shockingly self-confident stupidity – a subject I thought worth looking into a little more – since I feel confident myself, that we aren’t the only ones who are currently being frustrated by the intransigence of imbeciles!
Here’s the weblink to the fantastic (and frankly hilarious) scientific paper I found on the subject. Highly recommended, even if just to remind yourself that science can be simultaneously useful and witty.
Unskilled and Unaware of It:
How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.
Justin Kruger and David Dunning – Department of Psychology – Cornell University
And here’s the original Bertrand Russell quote in it’s original context, from “The Triumph of Stupidity” – the observations which surround that one especially memorable line, seem particularly important and relevant once again – and also reflect his extraordinary and subtle understanding quite beautifully.