I wanted to write about cults, especially the non-religious kind. One thing I've noticed since I've joined Weight Watchers is how people seem to think that this is the one true answer to their problems. They write excitedly about points and systems, abstracting food into a system of numerals that must all line up properly in order to grant them happiness. One guy even wrote about how he picked measurements by volume over mass because you can pack stuff in by volume but can't cheat on mass. As if his digestive system is going to say "Well he did eat a lot of calories, but because he packed the food in it was low in points value, so we're going to count this as a good day." Then there are the people who don't drink water before their weigh-ins, in an apparent attempt to fool the scale. Dehydration is a good way for a boxer to lose some weight before a fight, but not really the way to go if your goal is to look good or be healthy. Neither that babe at the local coffee shop with the piercing green eyes, nor that looming myocardial infarction cares about your scale weight or BMI. They care about things like fat, muscle, and cholesterol levels (okay, I've never heard of a woman dating a man based on his cholesterol level, but you get my point. It would be interesting, however, to have a chick go "Say, is that a report showing that you have a total cholesterol level of 130 in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Sailor.")
It amuses and disapoints me how many people abstract their lives into systems and measurements. We do it all the time, with everything from age to sports performance, and while numbers can be helpful they don't tell the whole story. People who discount SAT scores and GPAs still talk about wanting to screw 18 year olds, or how Barry Bonds huge numbers define him as the greatest player of all time. Do not be seduced by the cults of numbers and statistics, they won't point you to the promised land (Cancun.)
That's not what I want to talk about, though. I want to revisit a theme I've often dealt with (both implicitly and explicity)
We live in a culture obsessed with self-esteem, in all its forms. We've got Oprah and therapists out there trying to make people accept themselves for who they are and feel better about themselves. We've got self-help, diet, and exercise gurus trying to get people to improve themselves, so they can feel better about themselves. We've got churches that preach acceptance and love without any of the fire and brimstone. "Confidence" has replaced "Sense of humor" as the thing that women say they want in a mate because they don't want to seem shallow by saying "Looks and money." It's an in thing.
I have an interesting view on self esteem. I think that a lot of the time less can be more. By that I mean that confidence can be a good thing, but overconfidence is often a really bad thing, and it's rampant in our society. A huge majority of Americans think that they are above average in almost every realm. This is, of course, statistically impossible. It doesn't matter to them. If you manipulate the language sufficiently that they can't see the contradiction people will estimate that most people are above average. Overconfidence is epidemic in this country.
One could argue that this is a good thing. After all, confident people are achievers! They believe in themselves so they attempt things, and while some fail others succeed. Optimism is the engine of our economy, non? Yes, but there are significant drawbacks. For example, the increasingly regressive nature of our taxes is due, at least in part, to overconfidence. Something like 17% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of earners, and most Americans think that they will be rich some day. Sorry buddy, ain't goinna happen, at least for the majority of you. You shouldn't vote according to what might happen someday in the future. That's like taking out insurance on a diamond bracelet you don't have yet.
Then there's all the little examples of personal areas where overconfidence leads to issues. For example the millions of people who are absolutely convinced that their significant others couldn't POSSIBLY be cheating on them, even though they are. They think they are special and in a solid relationship and a whole lot of other bullshit. The badly thought out marriages that drive up the divorce rate. The drunk drivers who believe that alcohol doesn't REALLY affect their reaction speed.
Self-esteem and confidence can do a whole lot of harm.
So what's the alternative? Low self-esteem leads to failure and misery, right? Well the thing about self-esteem is that it's somewhat compartmentalized. People can be overconfident in some areas and deficient in confidence in others. I am probably an extreme example. I am overconfident in my writing, intelligence, and a few other areas, while I am underconfident with women and in terms of people's desire to know me. Neither extreme overconfidence nor underconfidence serves me well, but the point should be well taken.
I think what's important in terms of maintaining an optimal level of confidence is to be somewhat realistic. The ideal is probably to be slightly overconfident, thus inspiring you to push yourself and improve yourself, but not so much that you make decisions out of step with reality and put yourself in an untenable position. I think that slight underconfidence is better than vast overconfidence. As for vast underconfidence, well that is paralyzing and stifling too, and should be avoided. So, to sum up, vast underconfidence is stifling, slight underconfidence leads to stagnation, slight overconfidence leads to pushing oneself and improving, and vast overconfidence leads to foolish mistakes and problems.
So what's the point of all this poorly written claptrap? (Hey, it's really late and I'm waiting for my cousin who I hate, not the sick one who is supposed to help me but my ACTUAL cousin, to arrive from Texas, the state she's running away from to avoid her boyfriend who she no longer wants to be with because he's jobless and thus not pulling down the phat lewt she expects) I'm tired of all the talk about how great optimism and confidence are. They can be good and useful in a lot of scenarios, but they are not like peace and prosperity. It's possible to have too much of them (Okay, maybe it's possible to have enough peace and prosperity as well, but only in an imperfect world.) and they do measurable harm.
Self-esteem is great, when it's within the realm of realism. When it leaves that realm it becomes a liability. That's all I'm sayin'.