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Chapter 4: self: Virtues of Character

The Solution to Clumsiness

Our clumsiness can feel like one of the most shameful things about us. We spill, fall over, drop, smash… Clumsiness violates our self-image as a competent grown-up. It introduces us to a figure we may for a long time have been very keen to escape from: the Inner Idiot.

We are liable to hate our Inner Idiot from afar, with a grim face, and to try to deny its reality. But in our clumsy moments, we’re reminded that the Idiot is still there, prompting us to drop the phone in the toilet bowl and forget important people’s names at a party.

 

                             

There is a seldom explored path we might follow to break out of our shame: making friends with the Inner Idiot. Rather than to deny its existence, we might – with a degree of courage and good humour – accept that we simply are, at one level, big idiots who knock things over, spill drinks and make fools of ourselves in small and large ways most days of the year. But this does not, in itself, deny us the right to exist.

Clumsiness constitutes a humiliation if, and only if, we insist that the only way to prove acceptable is via a display of constant competence. But when we accept the incontrovertible and quasi universal nature of inner Idiocy, the discomfort and self-hatred is lifted. We feel we are alone with our idiocy solely because of a problem of perspective: we don’t see the clumsiness of others as we do our own, because it happens in private and is carefully edited out of public life.

Yet it is there in everyone nevertheless which is why, in the media, there is such a widespread appetite for watching people fall off their bikes or walk into lampposts. Thanks to comedy shows, we can experience relief at evidence that desperate clumsiness is not just our own. It may look as if we’re mocking. Really we are delighted to have found people as absurd as we are. The best kind of comedy invites us to see our own clumsiness as part of a collective and forgivable foolishness, not a private tragedy.

 

We see too that our own clumsiness is not what sets us apart from others but is what we share (in secret) with everyone. We can accommodate our idiocy more sweetly inside ourselves when we trust, at last, that it is an intrinsic feature of being human; that it is a factor to be understood and forgiven in ourselves because it must be understood and forgiven in everyone.

If we knew the real lives of others more accurately, we would be so much less scared and so much less alone.

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