When I was a young boy of about 9 or 10 years old, my parents would ask me to write letters for them.
They would dictate whatever they wanted me to write in our mother tongue while I write, one word after another.
Whether I helped my parents to write a letter, read a letter, or get a report card from school, my parents (especially my mother) always made me feel like a genius
But then, something happened.
My mother got a stroke around the year 1997 and we had to leave the village where we were living
I started attending another school in a more civilized environment.
I moved from being one of the best students in my former school to being a poor student in my new school.
All of a sudden, writing a letter is no longer a big deal and my report cards now placed me among some of the worst students
I found out that I wasn’t the genius my mother said I was.
The reason why I thought I was smart was that I found myself among kids who were far below average.
Added to this was the fact that I was born by illiterate parents who never knew the alphabet, so writing or reading a letter was a miracle for them which is why they called me a genius.
This happens all the time.
You meet people who walk arrogantly into the room because they think they have superior knowledge.
Some of them argue blindly on the subject they barely know anything about.
These people believe that they’re smart and intelligent even though they’re not.
Oftentimes, the reason why these people think they’re smart is that they’re smarter than all of their friends.
So here is the thing….. ignorant people usually have ignorant friends and associates.
Because these people are surrounded by other people who are not smart, they often exaggerate how smart they are.
Take for example this 2014 publication by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger
David Dunning and Justin Kruger tested and interviewed mechanical engineers in a big company, and over 50% of these engineers thought that they were in the top 5% of the engineers in that company, even though most of them were not.
Now pay attention to this……
In the same company, the engineers who were actually in the top 5% of the company ranked themselves at a lot lower level, even though they had the evidence they were at the top.
What is going on here?
Why would average people think they’re geniuses and truly smart people think they’re not that smart?
I think I know the answer!
You see, ignorant people often associate themselves with people who are like them (preferably, people who are a little below them) while smart people often associate with other smart people (preferably people who are a little smarter than them).
Because smart people have smart friends, they’re often exposed to ideas and knowledge that are superior to their own and this makes them sometimes wonder if they’re smart at all.
The opposite is the truth for average people.
They’re living in the city of the blind and they’re the king because they have one eye.
What even makes this worse is the arrogance that comes with ignorance.
In his 1871 book, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin writes this; “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” (voice and write the quote)
In this 2017 article for Pacific Standard, https://psmag.com/social-justice/confident-idiots-92793 social psychologist David Dunning writes;
“In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
My Bible says; “Fools think their way is right, but the wise listen to others” (Proverbs 12:15. Don’t voice the verse. Write)
Again, why do ignorant people often think they’re smart?
The simple answer is;
Birds of a feather flock together
Ignorant people often have friends who are like them or below them in intelligence and because they’re the king among their dumb friends, they believe they’re the kings of the world
Think about Napoleon Bonaparte
He was born in Corsica on August 15, 1769, and at the age of 9, he left home and entered the military academy at Brienne in northern France.
In 1785, at the age of 16, Napoleon graduated from the Ecole Militaire and became a Second Lieutenant in the Army for artillery.
Napoleon was ambitious and arrogant…. But…. You know, the arrogance of a soldier is called…. confidence
And even though his arrogance helped him to rule France for 15 years, and he’s even considered as one of history’s greatest military leaders, his downfall was epic.
Napoleon refused to have a relationship with the people around him and believed that there is no middle ground in life.
He would rather win or win, no room for concession.
This is evident in his dissolution of the Treaty of Amiens on May 18th, 1803.
In March 1813, Napoleon found himself in war with more than six European countries in what is known today as the War of the Sixth Coalition.
A coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and some German States stood up against Napoleon.
During this time, Napoleon was allowed to make peace and save his throne.
But NO, he believed he could defeat the whole world and that was the end of his reign and relevance.
Now think about that?
Which military leader in the world would believe that he could fight against six countries at the same time and defeat them all?
If Napoleon Bonaparte was truly smart, he would have had around him smart people who could make him see how dumb his decision was.
Smart people often have friends who are as smart as they are or a little smarter than them
Because they have smart friends, they’re often exposed to superior ideas and knowledge and this makes them humble.
I have something bad I want to say and that is;
I’m sorry, I don’t want to offend you.
But I want to tell you the truth, which is; you’re probably not as smart as you think you are.
80% of the people reading this article, including the Nigerian guy who wrote this article, are not as smart as they want to believe.
For example, a study by Macquarie University, Sydney shows that you’re very likely to exaggerate how competent you are whether you’re a doctor or a trunk driver
This study by Juliana Schroeder shows that most of us often exaggerate our contributions to the group or organization we belong https://www.inc.com/yoram-solomon/how-science-explains-why-people-exaggerate-their-contribution-to-team.html
And this Harvard Business Review study shows that this happens because only about 15% of humans know themselves enough https://hbr.org/2018/10/working-with-people-who-arent-self-aware
This 2018 study show that you’re likely to think that your state or country is more important than that of others https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797618772504
We’re all full of ourselves.
Having said that, that doesn’t mean that you’re as dumb as McArthur Wheeler who in 1995 robbed a bank without a mask on his face, believing that lemon juice would make him invisible.
You might even be smarter than Marvin Katko who in 1971 got wounded while robbing someone’s house and then sued the owner of the house
But at the end of it all, only a few of us are as smart as we believe we are.
Now to another question; how do I know if am among the few truly smart people?
If you have very smart friends, then you’re probably smart because Birds of a feather flock together
If you come across superior ideas and knowledge all the time. This is either because you have people who are smarter than you around or you always learn new things and that means you’re smart.
If you often think you don’t know much. Socrates said more than 2,300 years ago; “I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing”
Writing this article has destroyed part of my ego.
Lawrence Olamiposi who is my research partner is a bad person who sent me links to the above studies and stories.
As I’m rounding off this article I keep on asking myself, “Am I as smart as I think I am?”
Thanks for the reading.
I’m Steve Courage and I love you