“Once we experience success on any level — increased attention from an individual or group, a promotion, funding for a project — that confidence will tend to rise too quickly, and there will be an ever-growing discrepancy between our self-opinion and reality.”Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature
Consider three scenarios:
Teacher A is prone to thinking or saying, “I'm a terrible teacher,” but actually he's quite good.
Teacher B is prone to thinking or saying, “I'm an excellent teacher,” but actually he's quite bad.
Teacher C is prone to thinking or saying, “No teacher is better or worse than any other. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is on their journey.”
Which of the preceding is grandiose?
According to Robert Greene, they all are. All have an expanded sense of self and a large gap between reality and self-opinion. “Although they are rarely conscious of [it],” Greene writes, more and more Western people today “are choosing to idealize and worship the self” (p. 306, Laws of Human Nature).
Perhaps as a child Teacher A was constantly told that he was good at things, even when he wasn't. And so now, having been trained to only know of his competence through gratuitous praise, he fishes for praise by hyperbolizing how bad he is at teaching.
Teacher B may be focusing on the data that makes him look good and ignoring the data that makes him look bad. Perhaps the kids are really well-behaved in class but it's because he's mastered the art of assigning busywork. Perhaps a few of his students are producing excellent essays but he's writing off the rest of the kids' growth because “they just don't care.”
Teacher C is stuck in nice-sounding, brain-killing relativism. Teaching isn't an idea — it's the practical skill of producing mastery in students. Some people are objectively better at this than others — just as some people are objectively better at making swords than others.
Here's the thing that Robert Greene teaches me: we're all prone to grandiosity.
What we need, then, is the intellectual humility to take the data at face value. Teacher A, you produce good results in the classroom. You're a competent planner, thinker, manager, teacher. Teacher B, you can do better at promoting the long-term flourishing of all of your students. Teacher C, teaching is way more interesting when you abandon self-aggrandizing relativism and start getting earnest about the craft.
There's bound to be a gap between our self-opinion and reality.
What we want is for the gap to be no bigger than a hair.