“If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters — don’t wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important, distrust yourself.” — Epictetus, Enchiridion, 13a
For the past 3 decades, the smartest brains in the tech industry have been on creating a world where everyone is connected all the time and everyone has access to all the information on the time. While this is a good thing and has led to people in less privileged places get access to quality information, it has also led to an information/connection overload for many. We wake up and get news from Twitter or Facebook (or the newspaper online) and we get angry or sad about the thousand things happening all at the same time in the world. And we want to watch every popular show on Netflix and Hulu and whatnot just so we don’t feel left out of the pop culture. We don’t want to feel left out in the conversations. We don’t want people to think we are stupid because we don’t know every trivia about the current news events. All this catching-up-to-everything is making us overwhelmed and we find it difficult to focus on what is truly essential. But it is nothing new. Epictetus went through the same situation 2000 years ago. Sure he didn’t have Twitter on his iPhone but he certainly had hundreds of people around him, each one a bigger gossip machine than the last. How did Epictetus deal with this? By getting comfortable in saying, “I don’t know”. By being comfortable with being clueless or even stupid in such situations. What worked for Epictetus will work for us as well. We need to get comfortable being clueless too. We must ignore all the non-essential so we can focus on the few essential things in our life that would truly make our lives meaningful and happier. Perhaps, it is okay not to be the all-knowing Sherlock Holmes and instead, to be the ever-clueless Dr. John Watson. When you think about it, Dr. Watson did live a more meaningful and happy life than his friend Sherlock. And maybe we can too.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.