Learning New Things is Strength, Not Weakness

Not every client I see presents with a major crisis. Sometimes a person just needs someone to talk to. But if it’s bothering them, then my job is to try to help them as much as I can. One recent example is a client who described a family member as “contrary” i.e., the person constantly disagrees just for the sake of disagreeing. Such a person is often referred to as a “rationalist” (though “annoying” could be a good alternative). Rationalist refers to the failure to acknowledge alternative preferences in different matters, for example, treating one’s own preferences as moral absolutes. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Vanilla is superior to chocolate. You’re wrong if you like chocolate.” Outrageous, perhaps, but you get the idea. Sadly, similar antics are rampant on social media and TV “news”.

In response to a comment or preference you express, such a person will say things like, “I hate to tell you, but that’s not the answer.” Phrases like, “I hate to break it to you” are a big red flag that suggests you’re dealing with a contrary rationalist. Years ago I was a guest at someone’s house, and the hosts were serving cheesecake. The brand name happened to be “World’s Best Cheesecake,” and it was indeed delicious, and the bakery was known throughout the area. One of the guests, known to be annoyingly contrary, announced: “I hate to tell you, but this isn’t the world’s best cheesecake.” The hosts were insulted as he proceeded to make a case against the cheesecake. His rudeness became the hallmark of that otherwise pleasant dinner party. His future invitations were few and far between.

What errors in thinking would lead to such rudeness? What within this person’s mind would tempt him to utter such inappropriate statements in the first place? Interestingly, it probably wasn’t meant as rude. Such people have inner insecurities, and being contrary about something unimportant gives him or her a chance to feel superior. It’s as if, in disagreeing, “I’m showing what I know, and that makes me smart.”

The most significant element in this error is the false belief that intelligence is an attribute of how others perceive you. If that element could speak, it might say, “If I feel superior by knowing something that you don’t know, that makes me intelligent.” Ridiculous, of course, and it’s unlikely that our dinner guest would admit this openly. But this is the sort of emotional reasoning upon which that obnoxious behavior is based, and it can extend to issues of serious importance, like ethics or government.

A person with true self-esteem is motivated to flourish in reality. And this includes the willingness to be on the lookout for what’s true, what’s correct, and factual. Errors and disputes are always possible, but for the person with sturdy self-esteem, this is always the goal.

On the other hand, an insecure person is more concerned with looking right, smart and good. It’s as if he or she has concluded that these qualities cannot be gained honestly, so it’s really more about appearances. As they spout off, they are implicitly admitting that they are not able or willing to figure out what’s true, so all that matters is that they look like they know what they’re talking about.

Such a motive (and the resulting behaviors) would be unthinkable to somebody with self-respect. While nobody delights in being wrong, finding out that you’re wrong is tantamount to learning something new. A perfectly hands-on way to gain new knowledge!

Learning something new is nothing to fear. Internalize that and you’ll be immune to the annoyance of contrarian know-it-alls. And if somebody says something with which you disagree, be ready to back up your views with actual relevant facts, not insults or ad hominem drivel. Whether it’s politics, philosophy or cheesecake, you’ll see such individuals as the sad, mentally impotent people that they are.



Follow Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Charleston SC). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest. Also follow Dr. Hurd on Twitter at @MichaelJHurd1, drmichaelhurd on Instagram, Michael Hurd Ph.D. on LinkedIn, @DrHurd on TruthSocial


Why Get Help?

Solution-focused life coaching with Dr. Hurd