Wednesday 31 January 2024

"The whole cultural focus on psychological flaws distracts from what’s really important to a human life going well"

Image created by Gina Gorlin by Open AI's DALL-E

"Great poetry and literature are [said to be] spurred by depression. Great leaders are [said to be] enabled by narcissism. Great performers—founders, athletes, musicians—function through myopic obsession and cut-throat competitiveness. Insecurity, the need to prove oneself, impels the exceptional.
    "This constellation of narratives is commonplace, including in Silicon Valley. ...
    "This narrative is wrong; not just a little wrong, but wrong wrong. Empirically, it ignores the mountains of evidence that psychopathology impairs human performance. Philosophically, it implies that vice, not virtue, is the source of human greatness.
    "But the ubiquity of this narrative does draw attention to an important truth: highly salient, very real human flaws, even if they are not enablers of greatness, are not showstoppers for greatness. ...
    "[There's always interest in flawed creators such as Elon Musk, Sam Altman or Steve Jobs] —almost as if their flaws are the most interesting thing about them.
    "But—and I say this as a clinical psychologist—their flaws aren't actually that interesting. ... What’s really interesting, interesting because it is extraordinary, is what these people have been able to achieve even despite and in the presence of these flaws. Greatness is not facilitated by flaws; but it also plainly does not require one to 'fix oneself' first.... [turns out] flawlessness is a faulty metric for human perfection.
    "The whole cultural focus on flaws—whether through the lens of 'flaws make us great or 'flaws make us terrible'—distracts from what’s really important to a human life going well. Life poses us with all kinds of problems, our own faults being among them. But personal faults are not magically privileged as the most worthwhile problems. The point of life is not to minimise faults, the point is to live. To reap all the joy and fulfillment we can from our limited time on this earth. In other words: life is ultimately about what we build, not what we escape or minimise.
    "And it turns out we can build a great deal even in the presence of serious weaknesses, if we set building as the thing that drives us....
To really unlock ... full flourishing, [we] need a more fundamental paradigm shift: from 'I’m broken, how do I fix myself?' to 'This is my one precious life, how do I make it awesome?' ...
    "As to the flawed ... giants of the world: instead of attacking or defending their flaws—or elevating those flaws to the level of pseudo-virtues that will only cause pain in their confused emulators—let us study the workings of their outsize human agency, and therein find the inspiration and courage to cultivate our own."
~ Dr Gina Gorlin, from her post 'Your flaws matter less than you think'

1 comment:

MarkT said...

In my experience there is a positive correlation between greatness and flaws.

Part of the explanation for this is they're usually flaws of an unconventional nature, not just the common flaws of everyday men who are inoffensive but lack direction and ambition. This means they also warrant more attention and criticism from more average men, usually disproportionally - while the more common flaws get disregarded. So there's a reporting bias to begin with. The reports of Steve Jobs being a bully to his staff come to mind.

Beyond that though, assuming we define flaws objectively and non-altruistically, I think there's still a positive correlation between greatness and flaws. At least two explanations I can identify are:

1. Greatness requires a degree of single-minded focus on something, sometimes obsession, blocking out distractions. Whether that's innate to your personality or something you choose, it means you don't focus on other areas outside your obsession and develop weaknesses or blind spots in other areas as a result. Weaknesses or blind spots the average man doesn't have. Steve Jobs is perhaps a good example of this too, combined with the reporting bias identified above.

2. Greatness often requires an optimal balance of some personality trait or approach. But the only way you get the balance right is through trial and error. You need to be willing to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes to achieve greatness, often deviating from one extreme to the other until you get the balance right. Those who play it 'safe' never get there, and have few overt and identifiable flaws. They'll never offend anyone, but they'll never be great either. Those who are willing to take the risk necessarily get it wrong at times, and rachet up flaws in the process. I'd suggest Winston Churchill provides a good example of this.

So I think greatness requires flaws to some degree. But the inverse doesn't apply - having flaws doesn't mean you're great.