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by David N Johnson

May 29, 2022

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If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room!

– Some Smart Person

We’ve all heard that saying, and while I generally (more on this in a bit) agree with its sentiment, it’s the hubris of the thought that will get you into trouble.

Yes, we should seek out mentors. We should strive to be in a room with people smarter than us, it’s how we grow. It’s how we shortcut the learning process: by learning from others who have been there.

If we try to reach something on the top shelf but aren’t tall enough, do we wait to grow taller? No, we grab a step stool and grab whatever needed grabbing from the top shelf. It’s the same with life. Instead of trying to learn all of human knowledge yourself grab somebody who’s already been there and stand on their shoulders. You’ll go further and you’ll get there quicker.

The Hubris of Being The Smartest Person In The Room

Each one of us, no matter how smart we are, have something to learn from just about everybody else. Everybody has experiences that you haven’t experienced. Knows something that you don’t know.

It’s hubris to think that you can’t learn from other people. Even if they can’t teach you new knowledge, you can always learn a new perspective.

A truly wise person seeks knowledge in all its forms. They understand that being smart is about more than just being smart, it’s about being a perpetual student. They are always on the lookout for ideas that go against what they think. They are okay with being debunked because it’s the pursuit of knowledge that brings them joy, not the hoarding of it.

A hoarder is somebody who holds onto things because they are emotionally attached to them. It’s a sever psychological disorder that includes altered brain patterns, stress, OCD, and other environment factors that causes a person to excessively gather large emounts of items in order to store them.

This is the same with many people when it comes to what they think. They want to hold on to their beliefs so tightly that they’ll never allow anybody to speak against what they know (or think) to be true. Make sure that you don’t fall into that trap.

Speaking of traps, confirmation bias is one that you need to become more aware of so that you don’t fall for its allure. Confirmatiom bias is the tendency to interpreate new evidence as confirmation of your own beliefs or theories. This causes you to favor the parts of the new information that confirms previously existing beliefs.

As you can imagine, this can be dangerous. Confirmation bias causes separation between groups of people. It limits what we can learn because it inhibits our growth.

So, if you’re the smartest person in the room are you in the wrong room? Yes, I think that you are, but not for the obvious reasons. You’re in the wrong room because your hubris is preventing you from connecting with and learning from others. Remember, we all have something to learn and we all have something to teach.

Be teachable.

Play The Fool

I’ve learned to ask myself, “how do I know I’m right?”

Its opened my mind up. It has allowed me to see perspective. Perspective that I may not adopt as my own, but one that I certainly could if it made sense.

I used to be very rigid with me beliefs. I thought what I thought and there was no swaying me. It prevented me from seeing the full picture. That doesn’t mean that the full picture has to change my belief but I’m open to the idea if new information presents itself.

It’s okay to play the fool and ask questions about topics that you already know a lot about. In fact, it’s imperative if you want to become even more knowledgeable about whatever it is that you want to know more about.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the term applied to the stress or discomfort one feels when they hold two contradictory beliefs or ideas at the same time, or is confronted with new information that contradicts currently held beliefs.

This is the reason why confirmation bias exists. It exists to help us avoid the discomfort of conflicting knowledge in relation to our own beliefs and values. If the harmony between our attitudes and behaviors ever becomes disharmonious we tend to do one of two things:

  1. Change our behaviors,
  2. Or discount what we’ve learned

Subconsciously we lean more towards number two because it makes it easier to do what we’ve always done. Our subconscious takes over and discounts this new knowledge as untrue.

This mostly happens automatically to prevent any sort of guilt that, depending on the severity of the belief, may lead to the feelings of being immoral or negative self worth.

So, how do you limit the stress of learning that your current beliefs may not be correct?

Recognize The Cognative Dissonance for What it Is

It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. By becoming more aware of it you can short circut your reaction to want to debunk whatever new information is causing your discomfort. Being more aware of this feeling allows you to be more in the moment by alerting you to the possibility that your current behaviors aren’t consistent with who you want to be.

Think of cognative dissonance as a warning sign that you may need to evaluate your currently held beliefs and possibly make a change in either your beliefs or actions.

Acquire New Information

When you feel it, dig in. Learn all that you can about the topic that contradicts your current actions or way of thinking. Look closely at what is being said both for and against your currently held beliefs.

It’s important, however, to do this objectively. Be aware of your tendency to fall into the trap that is confirmation bias.

Ask Yourself What Needs to Change

To reduce your feelings of dissonance ask yourself what beliefs, actions, or perceptions need to change. This will help you to better understand your inner turmoil and what needs to be done to create harmony between what you currently believe and the new information causing discomfort.

To Contridic Is To Be Human

It’s a rare human that doesn’t have a few contradictions. To err is human after all, or should be contradict?

So, be easy on yourself. Focus on overcoming the contradiction with both curiosity and grace. By becoming more curious about your own personal inconsistencies you open yourself up to become a better version of yourself.

Think of cognitive dissonance as your internal tool for becoming more self aware. Don’t avoid the discomfort that comes with it, rather, you should lean into it and get to know it on a more personal level.

Who knows. You may learn something from it and that’s never a bad thing.

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David N Johnson

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David N Johnson

  • T Lavon Lawrence says:

    A fabulous article on keeping one’s head on straight while climbing the ladder of personal growth and success.

    • David N Johnson says:

      I appreciate the comment. I didn’t always think this way but now that I do, I’ve learned so much from people who I thought (wrongly) couldn’t teach me anything.

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