Back when years began with nineteen instead of twenty, my head was topped with slightly thin, dark-brown hair with hints of gray near the temples. I had the look and was living through a time known as midlife.
I was treated well — an “expert” in my field. While I enjoyed it, I often felt that expectations of me pushed the limits of my knowledge and capabilities. As in baseball, I won some and lost some. Thinking back, I now realize that I was dealing with a minor form of imposter syndrome.
Eventually, I got comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” That helped, as did, “I don’t care” and “I was wrong.” I am cautious with those last two. Not caring may be offensive. Admitting error requires sufficient contrary evidence. To this day, I do not need to know how the Cosmos came into being. I’d like to know. But regardless of how it happened, it is what it is.
Back then, I carried a blue, loose-leaf binder notebook. I inserted humorous quotes and sarcastic cartoons into the outside front cover. One serious insert I wrote proclaimed, “I have not decided everything yet. If you quote me, I may have changed my mind.”
That was my way of declaring that I was still figuring things out: learning. While I had a few firm opinions, I was a true believer of nothing.
I learned to be careful sharing my thoughts and to couch my reasons. I tried to be clear about what I think versus proclaiming what fact is. I still do that.
Since college, I’ve been a fan of Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer. I don’t think I “got it” until the last five or ten years. While I want to take a clear side for moral reasons, I also do not want to become blinded to truth and reality. I wasn’t neutral, but I wanted as much rational, logical certainty about my own beliefs as I could muster. I was naïve to think most others felt the same. Thankfully, many people are reasonable and rational, even if not as many as I’d like.
I began to realize that people I knew were masquerading as intelligent, open-minded, caring souls, but were disguised true believers. I should have known. I was often disappointed.
I like M. Lamar Keene’s expression for what causes people to believe things proven to be false: the true believer syndrome.
He asked, “What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable. (sic) How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it’s exposed in the bright light of day (sic) he still clings to it — indeed, clings to it all the harder?”
While Keene and Hoffer were each referring to different types of true believers, they are clearly related phenomena, although not as unusual as I used to think. Today we find them deeply involved in religion and politics. Are they dangerous?
I prefer being a skeptic to the mental chains of a true believer. If I must have a syndrome, I choose imposter.