A certain hobby of mine, which many of my friends and acquaintances judge to be somewhat odd is my nearly constant reading—in class, at bars, in front of people dancing and partying their nights away. But that’s not the only weird aspect of my hobby, they’re slightly more concerned with the literary topics I prefer: politics, history, neurology, psychology, and so on. In a social circle where most persons would pick up novels from store shelves without barely glancing at the “Non Fiction” section, I can understand why they find my taste to be quite peculiar. But I must disclose that I am by no mean choosing these academic topics because I’m an intelligent person, I’m simply a curious fellow who’s interested in anything unfamiliar.
Hence, I would delve into books thicker than some of the textbooks assigned to me by university—the most notable ones I found usually have pages that run between five-hundred to more than a thousand. Now it might sound that I’m starting to brag a bit, but I’m honestly not. In fact this entire post will be a showcase of the shortcomings I now have partially caused by my penchant for reading academic literature.
One odd consequence of being known as the bookworm, is being inaccurately labeled as “smart.” Although I only have the most basic understandings of the fields I peruse, a few people not limited to my undergraduate peers would come up to me, requesting analyses and my personal takes on cases that at times I only have a vague understanding of. And although I’d admit my ignorance outright, the insistence would still pore through, forcing me to come up with some convoluted, baseless explanations for why and how something that I do not completely understand happened. Strangely enough, a few would still mistakenly think that I was one-hundred-percent right; quite a stretch, considering I’m in the same position as them, and in rarer cases, far below their academic rankings. True, my grades aren’t particularly shoddy, but they’re mostly results of standardized tests, a method which basically judges how well we students can reiterate the things we’ve heard in class, not our capacity to conjure up our own convincing hypotheses and testable theories; things that could be done by instructing pupils to conduct research projects on their own, write papers, and various other methods which I believe would showcase a clearer picture of how well an individual grasps the abstract concepts handed to him. I was a byproduct of this process, and thus I do not master anything in the field, having only vague ideas that I can jot down on paper according to the evaluator’s preferences.
Unfortunately, as more and more people came up to me saying how bright I am, I became deluded at the actual intellectual capacity I have. Leading to me thinking, “Oh yeah, I actually do have a worthwhile brain.” Because, when we are constantly bombarded with compliments, praises, even commendations, keeping our feet on the ground becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. And so I went on quite the ego trip.
I stopped listening in classes, abandoned all notions of proving my worth to the lecturers. They were then in my eyes beneath me. These words should really show how much of an arrogant prick I’d turned into.
I had no more worries for essays, quizzes, exams. I’ve done them all before, and had already shown that I had no trouble in solving those particular puzzles. So why should I start caring. Why waste time worrying on something you know you can beat with one hand tied behind your back. Apparently, for a shocking amount of reasons.
As my social circle continued to reaffirm my recent sprouting belief that I am a “goddamn genius,” my curiosity waned and my pompousness grew. I didn’t need to read textbooks, I already know what they’re going to say anyway. I don’t need them to answer questions on exams, my old books would be more than enough. I thought there was no point to study anymore, to the extent that reading my preferred texts became an afterthought—descending from one of my favorite pastimes into extra work that I would not spare my time and energy on. I didn’t need refreshers, and I most certainly did not find new material to be necessary. This is perhaps one of the dumbest ways I could have thought. It was quite like reading the manual for a 747 and thinking that I could immediately fly it, without practice, without supervision. Obviously, that line of thought has too many flaws for it to be worth any notice, and is as egotistical as any man’s self-perception can be. Of course, the real world does not usually tolerate this level of overconfidence.
Recently, midterms season rolled over. And I was as confident as can be, ready to ace all the tests with maybe fifteen minutes of skimming the necessary materials, as I have done in my previous exams. Then I came upon an essay and class-room exam which completely flabbergasted me.
The essay pertained to the subject of International Diplomacy. To which I first though there’d be no problems at all in composing it, as I’d already read several books concerning the diplomatic processes of the Cold War, counterinsurgency missions within the Middle East—where the mission’s primary goal is to prevent more people from joining terrorist or similarly destructive factions—to the extent of poring over the diplomatic chaos unique to the region. Surely I’d find no problems here. Nope, even with all these assets in my hand, I was completely stumped. Why? Because although I knew and understood the cases, I couldn’t analyze them with the lenses provided to me in the classroom—when I said I pain no attention in class, that meant I was utilized the desks as secondary beds, or tinkering with the apps and games on my phone, and jotting down something completely unrelated to the topic at hand. The resulting paper was not satisfactory.
I was forced to hand in pages of baseless speculations and an overabundance of unrelated details, all of it written down with structure as an afterthought. The loosest threads I could find to tie up the theories with the case studies I used, whatever I could talk about the subject—no matter how insignificant they are to the discussion—I wrote down. I’m going to spare you the details, because it truly is one of the worst creations that have come out from my hands. And then came a new set of problems with the classroom exam.
The exam was essentially an evaluation of how well we students understood International Relations theory. While I can still confidently say that I have a pretty firm grasp of what they are, I fell into one of the most obvious of academia. You see, it’s not enough to just understand the theories by themselves, one has to be able to judge their merits and flaws by means of comparison. Plus, and this is the most difficult part, utilize them on real-world cases. For the first mistake, I had ignorantly neglected judging them side by side as I misguidedly thought that the questions would not reach that level of complexity. For the second, I never really practiced on using them for analyzing day to day happenings around the world; nor did I research or memorize any of the countless cases which could have been easily be entwined with the theories available.
To be perfectly clear, I am not attempting to whine about the whole experience, or draw pity from anyone. The whole shebang could’ve been easily avoided if only I had stepped down from my imaginary throne, and realize that I am by no means different from anyone else. Sure I might know more trivia, but knowing facts doesn’t mean anything other than that we are a little adept at memorizing factoids. Something I wish I had remembered before my ego grew to the size of a football.
So, at one point, I thought myself to be better than my contemporaries, lecturers, people who are generally a lot smarter and wiser than I am. What I forgot to remember, was that I was once one of the worst students in high-school, incapable of obtaining my diploma without a certain degree of mischief. Heck, I still don’t understand algebra. Right from the start of my higher education career, it was ludicrous for me to think that I could ignore all the norms and rules and still come out on top.
But there is a lesson that could be drawn from these blunders and self-delusion of mine, difficult as that might be to believe. At the risk of sounding a tad preachy, one of the main adversaries of progress, of becoming more that we currently are and of avoiding arrogance, is contentment. To become stagnant, to believe that we no longer need to adapt to the ever changing conditions of the world around us. To anyone convinced that they are currently the greatest version they can be, a reality check might be necessary. Otherwise, we risk being surprised at the hurdles thrown to us.
We must never consider ourselves to be unbeatable. The universe is full of surprises; circumstance previously unimaginable could catch us off guard, a never ending supply of competitors better than us in countless aspects will always come, anything else which could rock the comfortable beliefs we hold. Vigilance is but one side of the coin, and it must not be used to antagonize our peers. The other being humility, so that we can realize the flaws which we have hidden from ourselves, to push us into a path where we can become better persons. Besides, nobody likes the guy who thinks he’s the best at everything.
And as for myself, realizing that I’m not all that bright makes me want to learn again. Not to prove to people that I’m not a full-blown idiot. But because my sense of curiosity sparked up again, knowing that I still have so much to learn. Not just for the exams and essays, but because my recent failures reminded me that there are still so many mysteries out there for me to seek, and if I’m lucky enough, solve.
Oh, and this whole arrogance phase is also responsible for me not writing anything on this blog for months. Sorry! Won’t happen again!