The Burden of Insight

As my mother, a counselor and clinical social worker of 30+ years, often notes: Most people are not burdened with insight. I love that observation and have quoted it often, but of course it’s a little more complicated than that.

It’s not that there are two groups: insightful and not. That’s probably true for the handful of people at the thin tails of the distribution. The rest of us find insight at odd times, which is why we all suspect we’re insightful, even though that can’t be true.

Because we’ve had the experience of being insightful, and because we recognize the lack of it in others, it seems to us like we have it. But unlike other subjective states, insight is a classic “unknown-unknown.” If I don’t have love, I know I don’t have it, whereas if I don’t have insight, I can still think I do–or at least be completely unaware that I don’t.

This is a really dangerous condition for a species that defines its reality socially. If there exists something as simple as a barrier to insight, then that means it can not only be shared but celebrated between people. We can live uninsightfully together in codependent stupor.

It’s easy to recognize that in others — again, giving us that false sense. I had occasion to see it in myself recently, and I would rather be punched in the gut. You feel like a melon having its seeds scooped out. Slap whatever character-building platitudes you want on it, it hurts.

But if it happens enough, believe it or not, you start to get hungry for it. I’ve often said that serious writers want the sting of critical feedback, not because we’re masochists but because we know it’s the ONLY way to get better. It’s the same kind of thing.

I’m told that, paradoxically, you end up more confident in yourself while less sure that anything you do is all that great. That is, you’re proud of what you are or what you create for itself rather than for how much it’s celebrated by others. I hope to get there.