I’ve come up with a good rule to help facilitate a happy, comfortable existence on this earth. It’s rather blunt, and it gets right to the point, and as a result it is fairly helpful. Here it is: allow yourself to be wrong. Perhaps this is aimed most directly at men, who tend of the two genders to be the most competitive. Contrary to what some would think, the masculine competitive nature does not die with Little League or high school graduation. It simply expands into other fields, even as it remains anchored in sports for many men. Many guys compete over most any thing their mind fastens upon. At the office, what salary one makes. At the home, who has the prettiest wife. In the gym, who has the biggest muscles. In the church, who leads the most ministries. At seminary, the competition takes a muted but still-present form in the matter of hours spent working and taking class. I must have had thirty conversations with other seminarians in which I was asked a) how many hours of class I was taking, and b) how many hours of work I was working. One might say that these inquiries need not necessarily be competitive, but I think I discern fairly well the masculine instinct, however sanctified. In the case of such conversation I usually smell competition.
All of which makes it very hard for one to look stupid. The average driven American male seeks to construct a world around himself in which he looks as good as possible. Sure, there are times he trips, or messes up, or airballs, but by and large, his life is dedicated to looking good. Like the need for food and drink, he seems to navigate life according to likely actuality of impressive appearance. He eschews things that will make him seem lesser, poorer, and slower than others. What comes from all of this is a falsity to everyday life, to one’s own self-conception, that is damaging. We all become all-stars, albeit stars that play on a field of our own choosing and to an audience of our own imagining. Hints of weakness, of a lack of ability, of failure we push away, rationalizing all the while. “Well, I could have got that girl…she just prized the wrong things. She said once she liked me.” “Yeah, we would have won, but the umpiring was really poor.” “I could have gotten into that school—I just didn’t want to.” There can be truth in some of these statements. Sometimes teams do get gipped, sometimes girls do make stupid choices, sometimes schools overlook a gifted student. But the perpetual quest to look good traps us, lies to us, and sows bitterness in our heart.
How much better to look stupid every so often, to admit weakness, to grin and bear it, to give up false conceptions of self-grandeur, to embrace our humanity with all its shortcomings. Honesty, they say, is the best policy. The adage holds true. There is great freedom in admitting we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, and we won’t be it all. How ironic—in the pursuit of a realistic self-image that includes failure and shortcoming, we find true excellence of person. That’s an equation most of us think little of, and oh, how we miss it all.