What you know and what you think you know


"The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing." ~Socrates

I think anyone who has studied anything with any dedication or depth has probably stumbled across the feeling at one time or another, that you had just penetrated a new level of understanding, and with it came the discovery that your actual knowledge, (which you previously thought was fairly complete), was actually just the tip of the iceberg.

The more dedicated and studied you became in that subject, the more you discovered just how much you didn't know.

I bring this up because recently, a friend of a friend cited something called the "Dunning - Kruger effect" and, not being familiar with the term, I decided to research it.

By definition, the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to: "a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a meta-cognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes."

If at this point your internal monologue is telling you that this is something that has to do with "other people" be careful...

The hypothesized phenomenon was tested in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, both then of Cornell University. They proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

This is significant because it is estimated that of the approximately 100 Million firearms-owners in the USA, only 10% of them seek out any actual, professional training in firearms use. I can't help but parrot Jeff Cooper's well-worn quote:

"Owning a firearm doesn't make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician." Possession may be 9/10 of the law, but it does not automatically equal competence.

Complicating the matter is pride. I'm not referring to self-esteem here or the reasonable value one places on their worthy accomplishments. You can call it ego, vanity or self-importance... it is a false reflection of the self which is created by society. Through the ego, society is able to influence and control people. They have to behave in a certain way, because only then does the society "appreciate" them. That "appreciation" feeds the ego...clicks its "like" button. Anything contrary to the popular societal message propagated by Hollywood, print media, gun store talk, etc... is usually dismissed, regardless of factual evidence and data, because it does not satisfy that longing to fit in with the comfortable, emotion-based assumptions that people have become accustomed to.

"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner." ~ Tao Te Ching

It is not an easy thing to cultivate this mindset, society and the ego are constantly at odds with it, sometimes making open war with it. There are also some people; society's junk yard dogs, who can not tolerate anyone thinking outside of the societal box. These people base their whole existence and the success of their path on the manipulation of everyone else according to the same rules they allowed themselves to be manipulated with. Your questioning of their paradigm is an attack on the foundation that supports the edifice of their efforts. Reflexively, they assault logic, reasonableness and scientific theory with arguments based on emotion... hollow, but nonetheless forceful.

"… most of our energy goes into upholding our importance… if we were capable of losing some of that importance, two extraordinary things would happen to us. One, we would free our energy from trying to maintain the illusory idea of our grandeur; and two we would provide ourselves with enough energy to ... catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe."

~Carlos Castaneda

What does this have to do with firearms, training, or use of force? The point is that one can't train or learn effectively if one goes to a training with "what they know." Whether your knowledge is accurate or flawed, it is the obstacle that stands between you and learning. No matter what you know or what you think you know, enter into every training experience as a new student, make mistakes, ask the "stupid questions" and try techniques and methods that challenge your current understanding or "conventional wisdom." You won't leave with a bruised ego and you can always feel free to discard them later if necessary, but at least you will have a good reason why you discarded them. For an instructor, this is particularly important. A good instructor doesn't teach only one particular doctrine or "Way." A good instructor can only show that there are several paths to the same destination, and recommend, based on their experience, which paths may be more advantageous. This allows each student to better determine the individual path that suits their personal needs.