Don’t Follow the Crowd
“Let me take a look at your Twitter profile,” offered my table companion. We were attending a Chamber-sponsored event on how to make the most of social media. “That’s my area of expertise, and I’m happy to offer up a suggestion or two. Maybe you’ll decide to become a client.”
A few days later, I received an email from him that read in part:
The biggest problem with your Twitter account is that you follow too many people. Your following count makes you look less authoritative and diminishes the value of your message. Be selective and exclusive in who you follow. Think of it as a hierarchy of prestige. I suggest you curate who you’re following and drop those who aren’t influencers or a recognized name. You want to look superior, distinguished, special, not ordinary.
His advice disturbed me. For lots of reasons.
My dad taught me to be confident yet humble. One of his favorite put-downs for someone acting “high and mighty” was to say, “He forgets we all put our pants on the same way.”
There’s no “hierarchy of prestige” in that mindset.
The Self-Enhancement Effect
“The individuals in our sample consistently judged themselves to be superior to the average person.” ~Ben Tappin, The Illusion of Moral Superiority
In one study, two-thirds of the participants agreed with the statement, "Deep down, you enjoy feeling superior to others." Lots of other studies contain similar findings. There’s even a name for the mental state of thinking you’re superior to others—the self-enhancement effect.
Research shows the self-enhancement effect is most pronounced with moral characteristics. What does that mean? It means we not only see our abilities as above average, but we also see ourselves as more moral, just, trustworthy, loyal, etc., than our peers.
Self-enhancement thinking can lead to self-righteousness. That’s problematic. How so? Because self-righteousness seeps into multiple aspects of our lives—it’s subtle, incremental, addictive, indiscriminate, and destructive. Thoughts about rightness and superiority contribute to polarization, social injustice, intolerance, political discord, and even violence.
My interpretation of the consultant’s recommendation? He wanted me to position myself as better than others. Creating such a narrative about myself smacked of arrogance and narrow-mindedness, not messages I wanted to convey or even let myself believe. Other experts advocate the same approach. For me, curating those I follow back in pursuit of creating exclusivity and superiority felt inauthentic and dishonest.
“What is intellectual honesty? It means always seeking the truth regardless of whether or not it agrees with your own personal beliefs.” ~Perry Tam, CEO Storm8
A very thin line exists between confidence and arrogance. Not crossing that line requires vigilance, commitment, and self-awareness. Curiosity, a desire for humility, a sense of humor, and being kind to ourselves and others are involved, too.
Maintaining intellectual honesty and avoiding the trap of self-righteousness requires a few do’s and a couple of don’ts.
- Respect others as equals.
- Be willing to listen to opposing points of view.
- Check our ego at the door.
- Be confident without being arrogant.
- Judge or label people.
- Accept our presumed superiority.
- Attack people who hold different beliefs.
- Be something we’re not.
I thanked the consultant for taking the time to look over my Twitter account and for sharing his thoughts. He asked if I wanted to become a client so I could capitalize on more of his experience.
“No, thank you,” I replied.
“May I ask why?”
“Of course. I walk to a different drummer. I want to be seen as knowledgeable, not superior. Accessible, not exclusive. If that means people judge me as not distinguished, then so be it.”
“Have it your way,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders, convinced, I’m guessing, of my lack of superiority.