The handyman: A huge ego that prevents growth

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references

There are intelligent and sensitive people who, although they have more knowledge and resources, never try to bully others, but manage times and protocols well by making sure that others do not feel uncomfortable. And there is also the handyman, that person who adopts an arrogant attitude, pretends to know everything and always expresses his opinion, even when it is not required, at any time or place, bordering on insolence, often ending with offending. , hurt or exasperate the listener.

Psychologists at the University of Michigan analyzed this attitude to determine whether so-called "handymen" really know more than others and whether this belief of superiority allows them to implement better learning strategies that allow them to deepen their knowledge. In other words, they wanted to understand if intellectual arrogance is the fruit of knowledge and brings some benefit.

They discovered that the people we call "handymen", even when they did not understand something, claimed to know more than others and insisted on seeking information that confirmed their partial view by ignoring the data that made them appear less intelligent. In other words, this intellectual arrogance does not come from knowledge, but rather from its absence.

The less we know, the more we will cling to our beliefs

In this study, participants had to fill out a series of questionnaires to prove their knowledge of politics, but the psychologists set some pitfalls: made-up terms. Curiously, these all-rounders selected more fake terms and insisted on knowing them. On the contrary, people who showed a more solid knowledge, assumed a more humble attitude sometimes underestimating even their knowledge.

This reminds us of the words of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell: "the main cause of the problems is that in today's world the stupid are overconfident, while the intelligent are full of doubts". In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In another phase of the study, some participants read an article about a controversial topic that agreed with their point of view, while another group read an essay that differed from their ideas.

An intelligent person, when he finds information that contradicts his point of view, should seek a balance and reflect on his beliefs by starting critical thinking. However, psychologists found that the handyman tended to choose the data that supported his beliefs while ignoring those that contradicted them.

Obviously, this way of dealing with reality feeds the feeling of intellectual superiority, as well as losing opportunities to expand one's knowledge by integrating other points of view. In other words, handymen shut themselves up in their system of knowledge and beliefs by assuming them as absolute truths and refusing to consider different ideas that do not coincide with their own.

A mature "I" makes mistakes, recognizes it and changes it

To some extent, we all tend to avoid arguments that refute our beliefs, because our brains hate cognitive dissonance. There is no doubt that validating our beliefs gives us pleasure while seeing them challenged generates discomfort, especially when it comes to important or deeply ingrained beliefs.

However, an intelligent person remains open to new opportunities and if he makes a mistake, he recognizes it, because he is aware of the fact that to grow and advance it is necessary to abandon many certainties. Handymen, on the other hand, fall into their own trap: basing their self-esteem on their "broad knowledge", when this is questioned they feel inferior, they go into crisis and desperately need to validate their knowledge to get back to feeling important.

The problem with handymen is that, at heart, this strategy of intellectual intimidation is a mask to hide a deep personal insecurity. To recognize our mistakes and change our beliefs, we need a mature and self-confident "me", who is not afraid to update, change and leave certainties behind to open up to uncertainty.

The solution for the handyman is to break this vicious circle. Understanding that holding onto certain beliefs prevents them from continuing to explore, discover and learn. It is a difficult step, but not an impossible one.


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