Confidence: At the Price of an Open Mind?

Confidence is usually associated with a positive, healthy mentality. Confidence is a sign of maturity, high self-esteem, and proficiency. I have noticed that my confidence has grown over the years, in many different areas. Becoming more confident aids in ridding ourselves of personality traits that may have been bred from insecurities. Insecurity seems to be the opposite of confidence. With all these positive connotations with becoming more confident, I never really stopped to thing about the corollary. What is the price of becoming confident in your ideas and mentality?

I think the first answer is obvious: becoming over-confident. Naturally, this is construed as negative, as is anything that we add “over” to: over-eager, overzealous, over-anxious…
Becoming over-confident in an area presumes that you don’t have reason to be as confident as you are. For some reason, you believe your truth is more absolute than you have evidence for.

But aside from being over-confident, is there a negative to being confident? Over the years, I’ve found myself becoming more confident in areas where I am proficient, or have lots of experience. This may be something like technology, or running, or perhaps ideas around personal development. I once looked at this as a general crystallization of my mentality… Where I am starting to figure out who I am, and what I stand for. In the last two years I’ve had the opportunity start music, where I was an absolute beginner. The mentality shift of being an absolute beginner is amazing. I listened to anyone and everyone, since most people knew more about music than I did. I was initially very open-minded, since I had nearly no opinions of my own. I didn’t necessarily take every piece of information as absolutely true, but I did have an open mind toward it, and would think quite objectively before deciding whether to agree or disagree.

I believe the danger in becoming more confident is that as we do so, we become less open-minded. As we crystallize our views on a subject, new information gets filtered into simple categories of “This fits into the mental framework I already have, therefore I agree.” or vice versa. Now, of course, as with most things, this is not absolutely true, and sometimes a person you respect can shake your views by presenting a compelling argument. However, I believe that as your confidence in your views grows, this happens less and less often.

A friend of mine told me that the ultimate is to become very confident in your ideology, yet still open-minded towards new ideas. It sounds great, to be open-minded and supremely confident at the same time, but these two things naturally oppose each other. There are many things in life which we accept as having an inverse relationship, and I believe that this too, is a case of “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” I think the Zen philosophy of always keeping a ‘beginners mind’ presumes that you never hold onto your views too strongly. Meanwhile, confidence comes from a believing you are strong in your views.

Where do we go from here? As we grow older, learn more, and grow in confidence, are we doomed to look at the world with a more biased, ever-narrowing perspective? Maybe, but perhaps there is an ultimate path… Or else I’d like to think there is, so I’ll make one up.

Perhaps it is possible to become confident in who we are, and our abilities, rather than confident in our knowledge. Is it possible to be sure of my ability to solve a problem, but never too sure of the answer I come up with? There is a popular saying that can be paraphrased as such:

“He who knows the most, is constantly amazed by how much he doesn’t know.”


One Response to Confidence: At the Price of an Open Mind?

  1. Kalid says:

    Interesting post. Regarding confidence vs. keeping an open mind, I try to remember that most of my philosophical beliefs are based on assumptions and my interpretation of my past experience, not absolute “fact”. Facts are even hard to find in science, technology, or even math — we have postulates in geometry, theories of relativity & evolution (well-founded, but not incontrovertibly “proven”), Godel’s theorem, etc.

    So, assumptions aren’t bad (you need to start somewhere), but I try to recognize that my assumptions can be different from someone else’s. I can feel perfectly content with my own beliefs and not threatened by the beliefs of others.

    That’s how I get around the conundrum, anyway 🙂

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