When Confidence is a CurseAugust 28, 2020
Swamped as we are with endless courses aimed at enhancing our self esteem and confidence, it might seem passing strange to suggest that confidence can be a curse. But it can! True, lack of confidence can also be a curse, but for a while ponder the other side of the equation – for although our many self esteem courses might suggest that the absence of a worthy self image is a wide spread problem, the hard evidence suggests otherwise.
David Brooks in his book The Road to Character notes that in 1950 when asked if they considered themselves to be a very important person, 12% of high school seniors said yes. In 2005 that same question had an 80% affirmative reply. Not too many self image issues there – and this from Gallup Organization polling, so a perfectly reputable source. Tests for narcissism show an increase of 30% over the last two decades. To be clear, these tests ask questions like: “I show off if I get the chance because I am extraordinary… Somebody should write a biography about me.” Am I the only one who finds a 30% increase in this score credible, but depressing?
So what’s wrong with thinking we are extraordinary and when is confidence a curse?
First, confidently claiming the “extraordinary” title requires an unsustainable linguistic twist. If the majority of people are extraordinary, extraordinary is no longer extraordinary, for the word means extra to the ordinary. The baseline for ordinary remains the same – that which is most commonly found. Why should it be an insult to say that someone is ordinary? Ordinary people are made in the image of God. Do we really need to add something extra to that?
Likewise, why is being average unthinkable? By definition, that is where most people must sit, else the term does not mean anything. And if there is an average, there must also be a below average… And life doesn’t end if you sit in that space. Oh the pressure we endure when we delude ourselves that only well above average (extraordinary) is adequate. Actually, it is much easier to find clothes if you are of average height and weight. It is not hard to find a movie you will enjoy if you have an average intellect and don’t immediately spot the one hundred contradictory lines in most plots, and coffee is far more enjoyable if you haven’t trained your senses so finely that nothing is now acceptable.
But these are secondary concerns. And many would say they are more than willing to pay such a minor price to be exceptional. Are there more significant concerns?
Confidence is a curse if it comes at the expense of humility. Confidence is a curse when it blinds us to our own flaws. Confidence is a curse when it stops us from asking probing questions of ourselves. Confidence is a curse when it leaves me feeling I have largely arrived and have little to learn from others – and certainly nothing to learn from ordinary others. Confidence is a curse when it stops me from growing. Confidence is a curse when it stops me from listening. Confidence is a curse if it means I never think, “perhaps I am wrong” and follow by asking “and what harm might I be doing if I am?”
Confidence is a curse when it blinds us to the Bible’s teaching that weak is strong, that the first will be last, that children are our best instructors. Confidence is a curse when it sees us rely upon ourselves and when we rate self dependence as a high virtue – for if I depend upon myself will I ever depend upon God? Phil 4:13 does indeed assure me that “I can do all things,” but adds the all important qualifier that it is “through Christ who gives me strength.” To forget the qualifier is to forget the source of life serving confidence.
For there is a place for confidence.
It is the confidence that God is good, that God is faithful and that God can be trusted. I would like to be more confident that I would instinctively trust God – for when God is my confidence and strength, I might find the courage to attempt a genuinely extraordinary journey… And in the 21st century, an extraordinary journey might be to discover the joy of ordinary daily pleasures – the simple joy of life itself.