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Does This Metacognition Make Me Look Fat?

November 17, 2010

Ignorance is bliss, right?

Another bromide of that ilk is this one: Don’t argue with idiots. I was 40 before I figured that one out. Here’s what led me to that brilliant conclusion:

“The macrobiotic diet is very important for anyone with cancer. You must especially never eat pork. That must be why the Bible says it’s wrong.”

“Fresh wheat grass juice will cure you. I read it on the internet. It  must be true.”

“There is a cancer personality and you have it.” Helllooooooooo nineteenth century.

“Doctors don’t actually want to cure cancer because they would put themselves out of a job. Cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry.” I alluded to this one when the lovely French radiologist came into my exam room to explain to me that my cancer had spread to the fixed lymph nodes above my collar bone. “Can you fix it,” I asked him?

“Yes,” he said. “With radiation, we can fix it if you come here.”

“Great! You can fix it! Then you can quit this place and go be a pediatrician,” I told him.

“I like your sense of humor,” he told me. “You’ll make it.”

I heard this over and over again during my treatment: “Keep laughing. You’ll be okay.”

“Is that true?” I asked the most brutally honest of all of my doctors.

“There has been some research, and a good attitude is associated with survival, but a lot of it had to do with showing up to appointments. However, keeping a sense of humor certainly makes the process easier to deal with.” It’s the diametrical opposite of the people, so many of them, who told me “Laughter melts cancer cells. I read an article about it in Reader’s Digest.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

That’s what I tell myself at least, to make myself feel better about having less than a little knowledge about so many things — I’ve been living in a cave for eight years. Certainly cancer has kept me out of the loop, but also, I had a miscarriage and two children and lived in Japan. I’ve missed a lot.

Included in the set of things I’ve missed is something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The more of an idiot you are, the more likely you are to be confident in your knowledge and abilities. I love this, I really do. It explains so much.

What I wonder most is where I fit in on the nifty line graph. Am I in the percentage of people who consistently perform poorly on the battery of tests but blithely think I did okay, or am I in the smaller percentage of people who kick the results out of the park but fret that I wasn’t sure about a couple of questions?  The answer is that sometimes I am one, and sometimes I am the other, and most of the time I’m somewhere in the middle.

Scratch that. I’m not even on the graph.

Experiencing cancer is a crash course in survival. Most of the time, my back is to the wall and I’d better just keep moving without thinking because the capacity to reflect, to self-reflect, and stop and ask, “how am I doing” is a luxury so far out of my realm of possibility that I can’t imagine it. I don’t think. I just go, from treatment to treatment, appointment to appointment, and my doctors tell me how I’m doing, and tell me what the next step is, and I don’t think about the big picture at all, because I can’t. I know life is going on around me somewhere, but if I think about it, all I can imagine is flickering shadows on the wall of a cave.

And yet here I am, wondering how I am doing, constantly stopping to do the mental self-check. Are my shoes tied? Do my clothes match? Did I miss a belt loop? Is my hair brushed? Do I have on earrings?  Do they match? Each other as well as what I’m wearing? Did I call that person by the right name? Am I missing ten thousand social queues and if I am, can I recover?

I think I’m doing okay and then I find out that I’m really not.

Or is it that I really am doing okay,  but I’m just holding myself to too high a standard and I should relax and stop fretting?

Or maybe it’s that by the simple fact of my engaging in self-assessment, I have demonstrated that I’ve gone back into the realm of what life used to be like, and the answer to the question, “how much self-reflection is normal and how much is just pointless navel-gazing?” is that moderation is always a good thing, and that writers always spend way too much time looking into the psychic mirror.

I think the biggest question of all is, “How can I teach my children to stop and self-evaluate against accurate external measures so they can develop the critical thinking skills necessary to determine their own level of ability and performance.”

Then it’s back to another bromideYou can’t actually teach your children anything except by modeling the behavior you want to instill in them.

Oh, wait. That’s not a cliché.

Perhaps I should stop asking myself whether I am functioning at a level similar to the way I did before cancer  and instead ask myself whether I am being the person I want my children to become.

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One Comment
  1. Chris permalink

    You can’t actually teach your children anything except by modeling the behavior you want to instill in them.

    I keep hoping that’s only approximately true.

    –Chris

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