Friday, December 01, 2006

Self-confidence considered harmful

In the latter half of the last century, in the 1960s or maybe the early 70s, one of the pioneers of computer science wrote an essay about the "go to" statement. Because of publication scheduling, the essay was printed, in the Communications of the ACM I believe, in the form of a Letter to the Editor. The title was: "Goto statement considered harmful."

Programmers of the day were apparently addicted to that programming construct, which, according to the essay, was actually a symptom and a result of bad programming practice.

So with apologies to Professor Dijkstra, I take today's reading from the proverbs and make a vaguely analogous claim.
He who trusts in himself is a fool
but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.
Proverbs 28.26
Self-esteem and self-confidence are the "goto statements" of pop psychology. Our schools try to build kids' self-esteem, sometimes ridiculously. A recent survey comparing both the self-confidence and performance on scientific tasks showed that American kids were at once the most confident and least proficient!

To call self-confidence harmful is an overstatement, but it's surely self-evident that over-confidence brings trouble.

Trusting in myself - to the extent that I forget that I need God - that's where I get into trouble.

Having no confidence whatsoever is a trap, too, and John talks about who we can trust, as I think we'll see in the next few days.

Meanwhile, I want to remember to be humble, to seek wisdom from others, to remember that I don't already have all the answers.

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