Everyone is incompetent. I cannot lay a brick wall nor install an AC system. And I don't feel the least bit bad about that; it's not my job. I haven't pretended to be competent in those things, so I have no ego invested there. It just doesn't matter to me.
But in other things I do profess competence. Teaching chemistry is one of them. I worked very hard to be competent. And I feel good about my competence. Do I still make mistakes? Sure, on occasion, but I recognized the mistake when it happens and fix it as quick as I can. That, too, is part of being competent.
But what happens when we find we are not competent? In thinking this over I've come up with three responses:
- Internal, or private incompetence, left behind from our early childhood, we deal with by punishing or limiting ourselves.
- External, or public incompetence from promising beyond our means we deal with by deflection.
- Unadmitted incompetence we deal with by narcissism.
1. Private incompetence
The most difficult thing every human does is transition from being the center of the universe as an infant, where all our needs are met by our parents, to being independent. A lot of things can go wrong. We likely think we are not loved or cared for sufficiently. Our parents can see things from a very different viewpoint than can a one year old and the baby will take things in a far more personal way than any adult can realize. If they are not very aware of how we are experiencing the world they might not make an effort to love us thought it. Donald Winnicott said parents don't need to be perfect, just good enough.
How do we deal with these internal, mostly unconscious, feelings of rejection? We sometimes hate ourselves, sometimes isolate, many times distract via addiction.
Healing can be helped by talking about it to a therapist who understands, or if you are very fortunate, a spose who understands by having been through it themselves. Then by re-experiencing some of those core feelings, reprocessing them, dealing with them.
2. Public incompetence
How does a person deal with the discovery that they are being paid for a job they feel deep down they can't do properly? Especially those who have made big promises to get the job? Like celebrities, and politicians and YouTubers and Instagrammers and Tik Tokers?
They deflect. They might either blame someone else in a way that doesn't make them look too petty (but which always leaves them looking too petty), like blaming it on another race, or how they were born, or politics, or The Man, whatever. As long as someone else is to blame, they are okay feeling incompetent.
Or they might take up a cause in a very public way. We see this in many societies, particularly in the socialist countries. Incompetent Germans waved the red Nazi banner; incompetent Cambodians wore a red sash about their waists; incompetent Chinese carried a red book. All red, all very visible to others.
In the U.S. today the banner is "Woksim." Wave that as a CEO and nobody cares that you have 6-hour customer service wait times. Wave that in sports and no one cares that you lose more than you win. Wave that in your job and no one cares that your accomplishments are very small and short of expectation. Wave that as a teacher and no one notices your class A+ average grade and that you won't give your students a standardized exam so they know what sort of education they just got.
Wokeism is the current banner of the incompetent.
What did the incompetent have before Wokeism? They have UFOs, conspiracy theories, essential oils, mysticism, the worship of the almighty dollar, binge-watching, stereophilia, transgenderism, wannabes, pet rocks, hippies, following a band, the list goes on and on. Anything you tie yourself to which isn't your own accomplishment.
Do I want these things to go away? By no means! I love when the incompetent fly their banners! What better way to know them from a safe distance?
3. The Narcissists
Narcissists won't recognize their incompetence by complete denial. The roots of narcissism are in private incompetence, but they have gone to a private extreme in denying their own inner, hidden identity and have adopted a public face of perfect competence in everything. To pull this off they lie to everyone on an as-needed basis. They don't need banners to wave, they wave their outward identity.
Narcissists are in more need of a good therapist than anyone, but are the last to seek one out.
Of the few narcissists I've known, I can only profess my own utter incompetence in helping them. They are to me beyond help because there is nothing I can do to shake their believe in their own perfection.
The trouble is they are devilishly difficult to spot from a distance. Some have even learned (most maybe, I only know three I can pin down) to mimic humility at first to draw you in thinking they are aware of their own limitations, only to later tire of that and let their narcissism run rampant. Alas, then I recognize I cannot help and only then seek to escape.
I'll watch for banners being waved. I'll watch when I wave my own.
Live and learn.