Last night I stumbled onto an episode of “Fresh Off the Boat.” I understand that the sit-com is based on the book by Eddie Huang about immigrants adjusting to life in America. Of course the television “situations” must evoke laughter. Last night the little boy Eddie was preparing for a role in some type of school play and his father was overly enthusiastic. In one scene little 11-year old Eddie was dressed in hip-hop baggy clothes, dancing hip-hop, sporting a baseball cap turned sideways,, and a lettered hair cut. Instead of the father telling little Eddie to “dress like you want to be somebody,” he instead told him that if he was confident dressing and acting hip-hop that he had confidence in his confidence to act that way. I was struck by the father’s response which did not exactly follow a real life reaction of “Boy, what is wrong with you, you’re not leaving this house looking like a thug.” Instead the father tried to reinforce confidence in his son—even though the son was engaging in behavior totally foreign to his Asian culture. And this is the point of “Fresh Off the Boat,” cultural adjustments, and yes, adoption and adaptation of “other peoples” culture.
So what could we learn about “confidence” from an episode of “Fresh Off the Boat?” First of all what is “confidence?” We already know more about “confidence” than we suspect—as in “con artists,” or “running a con.” Con in both cases is short for “confidence.” Years ago people who preyed on unsuspecting individuals, gaining their trust with long stories of “get rich quick schemes,” were called “confidence men.” The name meant exactly what it said; people who could gain the complete confidence of complete strangers and end up separating them from their money. Bernie Madoff was a con man. He was so good at what he did that he sat in front of top level Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement attorneys and persuaded them that he was not doing anything that would warrant an investigation of him. Even Madoff was surprised at how he conned SEC officials all the while running a $60 billion Ponzi scheme. So what did Madoff have that made him such a good confidence man?
The word “confidence” means a lot of things: faith in one’s self, boldness, self-possession, fearlessness, assurance, certainty, courage, determination, cool, heart. The television show “American Greed” is a primer for individuals who have displayed every definition of confidence, always to the financial gain of themselves and the financial ruin of so many others. Enron comes to mind as one of those “smartest guys in the room” con jobs orchestrated by “cooking the books” to make profits and net worth appear to be what it was not. But the corporate minds that pulled off the Enron scam “stuck to their story” that they did nothing wrong. They were that certain, and brash, that their scheme would work—or that no one would ever find out the truth. So it is with misguided confidence. So how do we learn confidence and don’t we need it?
The opposite of confidence is “self-doubt.” Self doubt is a fear that one cannot accomplish something. What causes the self-doubt and fear is the key to gaining self-confidence. Most people have no confidence in public speaking—at least until they get up and try it a few times and find out “Yes I can.” One of the greatest periods of human self-doubt is a toddler learning to walk. They stand up up, they think they can’t walk, they fall down—and cry. They get up again, take one step, fall down, cry some more. Eventually one step becomes two, and then three, and then they’re off and running. The problem with toddlers walking may not necessarily be a “mind set” of “I can’t walk,” but a combination of factors, including bone development. But unless there is something physically wrong, a child who refuses to walk long past normal development expectation may have confidence issues. And when parents pick them up every time they fall down and give them a cookie maybe something else is reinforcing not walking. And as we grow older some of this same molly coddling can disrupt the willingness to take chances and “get up and walk.” So what does it take to become confident?
Confidence requires trial and error—it requires failing and the willingness to “get back up,” and try again. Confidence also requires skill polishing. Confidence is built when a person works hard to become better at a skill or craft. Confidence is also reinforced when other people reward “good works” with applause of “good job.” Confidence demands self improvement efforts and a reward system that acknowledges “a job well done.” This within itself will encourage continued efforts toward doing things well—that is, confidence to keep trying to do better.
Copyright 2015 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.