Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Self-Confidence Trap

by Madeleine Kando

A few days ago I did an experiment. I googled the keyword 'self-confidence'. Aside from one pitiful wikepedia entry with some factual information, all I could find was innumerable advise on how to improve, increase or build self-confidence and its counterpart, how to decrease, beat, avoid or overcome self-consciousness.

In general, being confident about something means being certain that it is correct. So does self-confidence mean being certain that YOU are correct?As a child I liked having internal conversations with myself, pretending that I was 2 people. For example: I argued that it was good that my family had left Communist Hungary to come to the West. My other self argued that if we had stayed we could have learned Hungarian and we would not have turned ourselves into political refugees. Does that mean that I was never sure whether I was correct? Does this constitute a lack of self-confidence?

Self-confidence is also having faith in one's own abilities, but the danger of being too self-confident is that it makes you think that you are correct when you are not. How can you improve yourself when you are blind to your own mistakes?

And then there is the unpleasant relationship between self-confidence and self-consciousness. I am fairly confident in my own abilities but when it comes to public speaking for instance, I am so conscious of myself that I become speechless, which poses a slight problem while delivering a public speech.

Very self-confident people have a total unawareness of themselves, especially their own shortcomings. But to tell you the truth I see many positive aspects in being less confident and more conscious of yourself. Here are a few: being less self-confident gives you the ability to listen and learn from others. It means having self-criticism which results in a more objective view of the world. It widens your perspective by embracing other points of view.

Self-confidence should be a temporal, ever changing state of mind, based on what you have accomplished, not based on who you are. You have an A in school, your confidence goes up. You shop-lift, it goes down.

But children these days are told by their parents that they are all special. It is based on the politically correct view that everyone is creative, everyone is a genius in the make. Being ordinary becomes every child's fear. It leads to an obsessive self-focus and breeds feelings of superiority.

The worst by-product of our culture of 'self-confidence' is the inability to identify with the underdog, the 'looser', the less fortunate. If you are told over and over that you should be a success, intelligent, powerful, famous, wealthy, how can you show compassion and empathy?

Believe it or not, there are other belief systems that actually teach the exact opposite. Buddhism for instance warns against taking yourself too seriously. The self is not what counts, it is the interdependence and sharing with others that validates who you are. In that sense, the more self-conscious you are the better. My favorite type of person is one who does not show much self-confidence but has a lot of self-worth. They know who they are, so they don't have to prove it.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Confessions of a Confused Housewive

by Madeleine Kando

For a long time now I have been struggling to understand why my culture, i.e. Western culture has been forced to focus so much on the Islamic/Arab ‘problem’. Where did that suddenly come from?

My first reaction was: ‘what’s that got to do with us?’ Why do we have to be dragged into the affairs of a culture that is in such a state of chaos? The majority of people who die as a consequence of Muslim aggression are other Muslims, not Westerners. So, let them sort it out, I thought, and leave me in peace already.But when more and more of our attention was taken up by this conflict and more and more suicide bombings took place, my ‘resistance’ turned into ‘resentment’. And after the attack of 9/11 this resentment turned into pure anger.

The Western world has basically been hijacked by a conflict that should have happened some time in the Middle Ages. I don’t see any difference between the days of the Inquisition when witches were burnt at the stake because they were supposedly possessed by the devil and Islamic Fundamentalist organizations that declare Jihad in the name of Allah.

I long for the good old days of the cold war. At least I understood what that was about. It was either US, the free world, or THEM, the commies. I was born in a Communist Country and know what I speak of. But this new thing: this Islam thing.. The majority of our political discussions are focused on terrorism, Islam, fear for Israel’s survival, fear of Islamofascism.. is there any room left for more constructive problems?

You see, I am still under the na├»ve illusion that history should progress in an upward moving direction, towards more enlightenment, more rational thought, more happiness. Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past? From our history? But for a long time now things have been moving backwards. Rational thought has taken a backseat to dangerous religiosity and attempts at explaining the world through insane theories like ‘intelligent design’. Ethnic cleansing is rampant everywhere. Aren’t we supposed to have left religion and tribalism behind in our more enlightened modern time?

Another source of great confusion is how people use the terms ‘Arab’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam'. Let’s make an ‘equivalency’ list: the word ‘Arab’ denotes ethnicity, so we can compare it to the word ‘Caucasian’. The word ‘Muslim’ denotes a person of a certain faith, so we can compare it to the word ‘Christian’. And the word ‘Islam’ is a religion, so we can compare it to the word ‘Christianity’. Saying that ‘Arabs should denounce terrorism’ is like saying ‘Caucasians should denounce the Ku Klux Klan’.

I have to accept that simple people like myself are not equipped to fully understand, let alone influence the course of history. On the other hand it is people, after all, that make up societies. There must be at least one other person out there that is as disillusioned with the post cold war direction that the world has taken as I am. We are all going down like a ship in a maelstrom and no one is able to stop it.
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