We all want to be justified in our choices, no matter what they are; but why do we have that tendency and how can we choose a better way?
At the beginning of the 1980s, more American families were starting to purchase two cars, and city roads were starting to see ‘serious congestion’ (oh, sweet irony).
In 1981, a group of researchers conducted a study asking US drivers how they felt about their vehicular skills. At least 93 percent of drivers claimed that their driving skills were “above average,” especially when compared to other people on the roads.
Reading the statistic reminded me of my daily drive to work. I was waiting at one large intersection, only a block from the office. The light turned green, and I hit the gas then promptly stood on the brakes. A driver from cross traffic sailed into the intersection, not even glancing around as she ran her red light with the aplomb of Queen Elizabeth on tour of the Commonwealth.
Furious, pulse hammering away in my ears, I laid on my horn, and I put every ounce of my body weight into it.
This lady’s mouth flew open in almost comical shock and outrage. Time slowed; the car arced gracefully through the intersection; the red traffic light glimmered gently off its hood; the woman took both hands off the steering wheel to give me the double gun salute while somehow managing to keep her trajectory perfectly in the lane. It was almost magnificent.
I don’t doubt that she arrived at work, fuming at “That [insert pejorative term here] who honked at me in the intersection.”
From Ecstasy to Desolation
Overconfidence is probably one of the most pervasive forms of pride, and it’s hardly a new struggle in humanity’s repertoire of internal issues.
David Wilkerson wrote, “Jesus spoke directly to the apostle Peter, ‘Simon, listen to me! Satan has demanded the right to test each one of you, as a farmer does when he separates wheat from the husks. But, Simon, I have prayed that your faith will be strong. And when you have come back to me, help the others.’
“Peter said, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to jail and even to die with you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Peter, I tell you that before a rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will say three times that you don’t know me’ (Luke 22:31-34, CEV).
“Overconfident, Peter had no idea what he was about to face. Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at Jesus’ arrest, he impetuously cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant (see John 18:10). This act of bravado typified much of Peter’s approach to life. Before the night was over, he had fulfilled Jesus’ words that he would deny three times that he even knew him. And ‘Peter went out and wept bitterly’ (Luke 22:62).
“From ecstasy to desolation within the span of a few hours because of overconfidence and self-reliance!”
Perhaps the hardest part about overconfidence is that culture cheers on our natural impulse. Rewards are given to those who say they can achieve a goal or perform a duty and then go home and learn how to do it or work hours of overtime to fulfill their word. There’s a real go-getter.
Failure in these cases, though, tends to be exponentially worse than those with a more honest and thoughtful approach. Still, society calls for those who can do no wrong, and our self-congratulatory natures leap to answer.
The Three Evolutions of Overconfidence
The magazine Scientific American noted, “Overconfidence can come in many forms, the three most common being overestimation, overplacement, and overprecision.”
Overestimation is when we decide that we are more skilled at a job or activity than we have experience or training to back up. This internal evaluation is usually based on limited objective evidence and rarely consults others’ opinions on the matter.
Overplacement is the pit that the more confident among us fall into when we start comparing ourselves to others. We assume that we’re better than others because they’ve stumbled in one area or we haven’t witnessed them performing a certain task before. Occasionally, we do make an accurate assessment of someone’s skills in one area, but then that judgment wanders over into other sandboxes where it has no business playing.
Overprecision is that person at the party who simply cannot be convinced that their opinion or argument is incorrect or may have exceptions. They’re never wrong about (fill in the blank). All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t persuade them to acknowledge making a mistake or, worse yet, that they have encountered someone with more information than them on their topic of choice.
All three forms of overconfidence will not only get us into hot water but also hurt people around us, whether they realize it right away or not.
As The Myers-Briggs Company notes, “The negative effects of overconfidence are often worsened by group think. In the rush to make a decision, data and opinions that run counter to the line of thinking put forward by the leader are glossed over. Retrospective analyses of failed projects often reveal that concerns were in fact surfaced in earlier stages early on but ignored, with those who signaled the red flags being marginalized or excluded from final decision making.”
An unwillingness to admit mistakes or the need to learn is a death sentence for good decisions and meaningful relationships, whether they’re in our family, with a spouse or at a job.
Where Is True Confidence?
Luckily, God rarely lets this kind of overweening confidence have the last word in our lives. As David Wilkerson notes, “Many Christians are allowed to come to a place of near-falling so that the Lord can lift them and set them on firmer ground. Jesus had told Peter, ‘You’re going to deny me, but you’re going to be restored. Afterward, you’re going to be blessed by what you’ve learned, and you’ll have something vital to give to others.’”
Once God brings it to our attention how overconfidence or pride has led us down the wrong road, we have a chance to start fresh. Not only that, but we also have a valuable experience to help us from falling into the same ditch again.
It’s worth noting here, though, that avoiding overconfidence doesn’t mean not having sureness in certain arenas. We ought to be very firm on God’s word, and not having confidence in God’s gifts, which he would have us use for the benefit of others, is downright insulting to our Lord.
False humility or pretending that we don’t know the answer when we actually do isn’t glorifying to God either.
As C.S. Lewis so neatly put it in Mere Christianity, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
“If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
Healthy confidence always has a close friend named humility. It is not threatened by fear of failure; it is not blinded by pride; it can admit to mistakes and change course.
People may be drawn to overconfidence because it is the counterfeit of calm assurance, but they’ll know the real stuff when they come across it. The strength of confidence doesn’t come from any one individual but from the truth we hold inside that cannot be shaken.