In the Sunday Times of 25 June 2016 Tony Leon wrote an article on South African leadership which I found very interesting. What caught my eye in particular was his referral to the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, two academic psychologists at Cornell University, described how people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their ability as greater that they possess.

Columnist David Brooks summarised it as “The phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand their own incompetence.” Leon uses several current political leaders as examples where faulty and irresponsible thinking is slowly destroying our country.

The above quotes are however not just applicable to leaders, but to each of us as individual citizens. All too often do we fail in objectively dissecting and investigating the quality of our own thinking. Without doing this, we fall into the traps of arrogance, narcissism and self-righteousness. These qualities further destruct society on every level it occurs.

As individuals, it is crucial for ourselves but also for society at large to humbly measure our choices and actions against ethical standards which are right, just and fair. This is the only way towards healing an ailing society. None of us are immune to making mistakes and an attitude of false superiority can only lead to destruction and doom. The challenge is objective self-discovery and insight; it entails a willingness to grow and excel.

Practical exercise:
Think of an example of your own where you mistakenly felt superior and over-estimated your own competence. Write down the result. Do the opposite as well by thinking of a situation where humility and appropriate self-investigation led you to success.