"Kidding Ourselves"

Self-deception and the higher ed career.

October 23, 2014

Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception by Joseph T. Hallinan

Published in May of 2014.

How are you deceiving yourself in your higher ed career?

Maybe you, like me, are under the illusion that you are better at persuading your colleagues to accept your arguments than the average academic.  

Or you believe, as I have, that your motivations are purer and your intent more selfless than your colleagues and co-workers.  

Perhaps you think, as I once did, that your work is more important to the long-term health of your department or school than the average employee at your institution.  

Reading Hallinan’s fine new book should dissuade you from all illusions of specialness.  Unless you are clinically depressed, your self-evaluation of your own competencies and how you are viewed by others (as well as your long-term career prospects) are likely to be inflated.  Clinically depressed people are depressing accurate about their value in the organization.  

All this should come as no surprise to fans of the “predictably irrational” genre of popular nonfiction. While I’m a devote of this oeuvre, Kidding Ourselves taught me some new things.  

I had no idea that the more senior we become at work, the higher we go up the academic bureaucratic greasy poll, the more clueless we become about ourselves.  We all know about the Peter Principle.  This is worse.  With authority comes an increasing inability to see ourselves as others do.  Reading Hallinan is a motivator towards modesty.  

The fact that we constantly deceive ourselves about our own skills and accomplishments (and looks and even our grades in high school), should not be understood as completely negative.  The flip-side of the self-deception coin is that optimism causes us to be happier and more successful people.  The reason that we deceive ourselves along so many dimensions is our need to be in control.  The more control we feel, the more effective we are.  (And the longer we live).  

We should feel optimistic about the future of higher ed, as that optimism will help us gather the resiliency necessary to keep working towards positive change. 

Kidding Ourselves may not be the kind of book that department heads or college presidents pass around on campus - but maybe it should be.  

What are you reading?


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