A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation about confidence with some women I admire. Each woman had come to the United States from a different country, and each brought her own experiences about how confidence was asserted and valued.
I asked too many questions, as usual, and inevitably, one of my friends asked me whether I lacked confidence in myself. I thought about that for a moment.
“No,” I said. “I don’t need more confidence. Everyone else needs less.”
I was being (mostly) glib at the time. But the older I get, the more convinced I become that Americans have a peculiar confidence problem.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is an easy Exhibit A. The businessman is flying high in the polls on the gossamer wings of bluster and pomp, deriding his opponents as effete equivocators.
I’m not surprised by Trump’s success. It’s no secret that most of us equate confidence with strength, even when that confidence is misplaced. I’m more alarmed that we seem to have turned that belief inside out.
Somewhere along the line, hesitancy became a sign of weakness, carefulness a code for sloth. Forethought, like training wheels and light beer, was for wusses who couldn’t hack it in the real world.
Part of the blame I rest at the feet of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Before the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters were confirmed, media sites and Twitter feeds exploded with a series of confident (and wrongheaded) accusations. Depending on whom you listened to, the shooters were three Caucasian men, two Latino men, a Qatari national.
The Daily Beast attributed the shooting to the wrong Farook brother, going so far as to publish his picture.
And, like clockwork (assuming the clock in question chimes incessantly with the wrong time), hardline Republicans and Democrats used these reports to take snarky potshots at one another before the ink — or the blood — had dried.
I used to recite “blessed are the meek” at Sunday school. Now, I can think of a few other verbs I’d use before “blessed.” We seem to have stopped reserving judgment around the same time we stopped reserving videos at Blockbuster. And our confident missteps can have chilling consequences.
Take the recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, in which 30 percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats polled answered they would support bombing Agrabah.
If that sounds unfamiliar, it’s because Agrabah is a fictional city from the Disney film “Aladdin.”
After the results were published, many criticized Public Policy Polling for asking a trick question. “Troll polling,” some called it. I’m less concerned about those setting the trap than I am about those striding confidently into it.
Would so many of us really rather sign a whole (albeit imaginary) city’s death warrant than ask for more information? Would we really rather murder indiscriminately than risk appearing dovish on security?
I’m highly motivated to feel skeptical about the implications because I need a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
It’s hard out here for a wimp. Sure, the meek might someday inherit the earth, but the current tenants can do an awful lot of damage in the meantime.
Almost a year ago, I ended my first column for Midwest Voices with a call for greater humility in our disagreements in 2015. I’d like to end my last column with a simpler wish: humility in general. The kind that might prevent us from carpet bombing our favorite Disney characters in the New Year.
You know, if it’s not too much to ask.
Liz Cook lives in Kansas City, where she is a freelance writer and economic research editor. Reach her at email@example.com.