In well-meaning attempts to boost our confidence ahead of challenging moments,
people often try to draw our attention to our strengths:
our intelligence, our competence, our experience.
But this can – curiously – have some awkward consequences.
There’s a type of under-confidence that arises
specifically when we grow too attached to our own dignity
and become anxious around any situation that might seem to threaten it.
We hold back from challenges in which there is any risk of ending up looking ridiculous
which comprises, of course, almost all the most interesting situations.
In a foreign city, we might grow reluctant to ask anyone to guide us to the nice bars,
because they might think us an ignorant, pitiable, lost tourist.
We might long to kiss someone
but never let on out of a fear that they could dismiss us as a predatory loser.
Or at work, we don’t apply for a promotion,
in case the senior management deems us delusionally arrogant.
在拍卖会上 为了避免出丑 我们不太敢冒险
In a concerted bid never to look foolish, we don’t venture very far from our cocoon,
and thereby – from time to time at least – miss out on the best opportunities of our lives.
At the heart of our under-confidence is a skewed picture of how dignified it is normal for a person to be.
我们设想 在某个年龄之后 我们可以不受旁人的嘲笑
We imagine that it might be possible, after a certain age, to place ourselves beyond mockery.
We trust that it’s an option to lead a good life without regularly making a complete idiot of ourselves.
One of the most charming books ever written in early modern Europe
is called ‘In Praise of Folly’
by the Dutch scholar and philosopher, Erasmus.
In its pages, Erasmus advances a hugely liberating argument.
他用一种温和的语调告诉我们 每个人无论他们多么重要多么博学 都是愚人
In a warm tone, he reminds us that everyone, however important and learned they might be, is a fool.
No one is spared, not even the author.
However well-schooled he himself was,
Erasmus remained – he insists – as much of a nitwit as anyone else:
his judgement is faulty,
his passions get the better of him,
he is prey to superstition and irrational fear,
he is shy whenever he has to meet new people,
he drops things at elegant dinners.
This is deeply cheering,
for it means that our own repeated idiocies don’t have to exclude us from the best company.
Looking like a prick,
犯错 在晚上做怪事 这些表现不会让我们与社会格格不入
making blunders and doing bizarre things in the night doesn’t render us unfit for society;
it just makes us a bit more like the greatest scholar of the northern European Renaissance.
There’s a similarly uplifting message to be pulled from the work of Pieter Brueghel.
His central work, ‘The Dutch Proverbs,’ presents a comically disenchanted view of human nature.
Everyone, he suggests, is pretty much deranged:
here’s a man throwing his money into the river;
there’s a soldier squatting on the fire and burning his trousers;
someone is intently bashing his head against a brick wall;
someone else is biting a pillar.
Importantly, the painting is not an attack on just a few unusually awful people–
it’s a picture of parts of all of us.
Brueghel’s and Erasmus’s work proposes that the way to greater confidence
isn’t to reassure ourselves of our own dignity–
it’s to grow at peace with the inevitable nature of our ridiculousness.
We are idiots now,
we have been idiots in the past,
and we will be idiots again in the future…
and that’s OK.
There aren’t any other available options for human beings to be.
Once we learn to see ourselves as already, and by nature, foolish,
it really doesn’t matter so much if we do one more thing that might make us look a bit stupid.
The person we try to kiss could indeed think us ridiculous.
The individual we asked directions from in a foreign city might regard us with contempt.
But if these people did so, it wouldn’t be news to us–
they would only be confirming what we had already gracefully accepted in our hearts long ago:
that we, like them – and every other person on the earth – are a nitwit.
The risk of trying and failing would have its sting substantially removed.
A fear of humiliation would no longer stalk us in the shadows of our minds.
我们会变得自由淡然 勇于尝试 因为我们学会了接纳失败
We would grow free to give things a go by accepting that failure was the acceptable norm.
而时不时地 在我们意料之中的失败与被回绝中 我们的尝试或许会是有效的
And every so often, amidst the endless rebuffs we’d have factored in from the outset, it would work:
我们会得到一个吻 我们会交到一个朋友 我们也会加薪
we’d get a kiss, we’d make a friend, we’d get a raise.
The road to greater confidence begins with a ritual of telling oneself solemnly every morning
before heading out for the day,
对自己说 人本就是个笨蛋 白痴 一个蠢人 一个低能儿
that one is a muttonhead, a cretin, a dumbbell and an imbecile.
One or two more acts of folly should, thereafter, not matter very much at all.