Recognize you could be wrong
It’s a hard realization when you finally figure out that you’re not the smartest person in the room. It’s even harder when you realize that you probably will never be.
We here at the University have enjoyed successes of intellect throughout our educations. When we were students in elementary and high school, we wrote well, looked at literature critically and were smart kids. At least that’s what I thought of myself.
While that may sound pretentious, I think many other students at the University felt the same.
Throughout these four long years, or short years depending on if I’m feeling impatient or nostalgic, I have always had to remind myself that I might be wrong. That maybe, just maybe, the person speaking to me, be it a teacher or a student, might be a fraction more knowledgeable than me on the subject we’re discussing.
I had the most difficult time with this my first year in Expository Writing. While we all have heard the cliché stories of how difficult Expository Writing is and how incoming first-year students have a hard time understanding why they are failing assignments when all they received top grades in high school, we’ve heard it because it’s true.
I had no clue into why I was doing so poorly in Expository Writing until I stopped being angry at the professor and thought to myself that I just might be wrong. Maybe all the A’s I had received just inflated my ego, and maybe I had just entered the real world.
I closed my mouth and my mind and finally understood how to write well and squeezed out an A. I was ecstatic.
In retrospect, unfortunately that was the wrong reaction to have. I had boosted my ego all over again. I was thinking, “I got an A in Expos! I am a pretty good writer.” But I had the same problem again when I started writing for journalism classes — I didn’t get it at first. But I thought back to my experience in Expository Writing, switched off my ego and my brain and learned how to write news stories properly and without fluff.
But the cycle continued, and now I thought since I had done well in my news writing classes that I could write for The Daily Targum.
You can guess what happened next — the cycle repeated. I was angry at the editors for changing my leads and moving parts of the story around, but I kept my mouth shut (which may be why I’m still working for The Targum) and made the hard realization again. I might be wrong.
I realize now that this is how people succeed — by shutting up and understanding that what the other people are doing is not for your detriment but your benefit. After all, what can the purpose of my professors or editors have in changing my writing besides improving it?
David Foster Wallace gave the commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. The speech explains that the purpose of a liberal arts college is not for us to be well learned in different subjects. Rather, the purpose is for us to learn how to think.
The idea is insulting. Wallace admits this himself, but I like to think he’s right.
Wallace tells the graduates that the real world is hard and depressing, and the only thing you can do is change your perspective and move away from the “me” world — the world where your ego puts you in the center.
He tells us to just think that we might be wrong, that maybe the person in the gas-guzzling SUV who cuts us off on the road is in a hurry to go the hospital. Or that maybe she drives the large SUV because she was in such a terrible car accident, so the only way she feels safe enough to drive is behind the large protective chassis of an SUV.
The scenario is not probable, but it’s also not impossible, Wallace said.
So perhaps the next time you’re at the College Hall bus stop on Douglass campus waiting for the F bus, and some kid just pushes and gets in front of you and is throwing elbows around, just think maybe your assumption that he is a jerk and doesn’t care about anybody is wrong. Maybe he really needs to get to class because his professor is more strict than usual and he is in danger of failing the class. Maybe he was standing at the bus stop for a long time and out of kindness let other people get on two previous F buses.
It’s not probable, but it’s also not impossible.
Take a step back and realize that you don’t know everything and that you will never know.
You’ll probably never be the smartest guy in the room, but realize that it’s a benefit, otherwise how would you ever improve.
Tabish Talib is a School of Arts and Sciences senior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science. He is a correspondent at The Daily Targum.