Tony Wolski

Appearing clueless in extraneous matters


“If you wish to improve,” Epictetus once said, “be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”

Ahhhh… that feels good.

I came across this wise piece of advice whilst reading Want to Really Make America Great Again? Stop Reading the News by Ryan Holiday. It feels good because I’m more often than not uninformed — unaware even — about extraneous matters like current events. Holiday goes on…

One of the most powerful things we can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.”

Even better. It’s incredibly comforting to know that smart men have adopted the same beliefs and behaviours you have. Particularly when you occasionally question those beliefs and behaviours because they don’t conform with those of the general population.

I don’t read or watch much news, or spend much time on social media, for a number of reasons. A direct result of this choice is that I don’t know much about much. You can bet your arse that when I get together with a group of friends there will be a slew of recent (usually shocking) newsworthy stories that dominate the conversation, that I know nothing or very little about. The only way I’m able to participate in said conversations is to ask questions. Sometimes I do feel clueless and stupid, despite having made the deliberate choice to be uninformed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely impervious to the addictiveness of modern news and social media. I occasionally scan through the landing page of Google News, and if an article really catches my eye I’ll open it in a new tab. Once a week I’ll login to Facebook and scroll the news feed for a couple of minutes, which inevitably turns into more like 10-15 minutes. But I almost always regret it. Bite size chunks of my life gone, consuming… what? Fluff. Time I could have spent better producing, really contributing.

Holiday says it best:

We’re aghast at what is exposed to us…yet no real changes result from it. No one is listening to you—they’re laughing at you. They’re glad you’re distracted. They’re happy you’re posting on social media, because it means you’re not showing up at city council meetings, because it means you’re not voting.

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