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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Components of Insight

                                                            Illustration by W. Heath Robinson

We are all familiar with the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  The plot of this short tale by Hans Christian Andersen follows:

An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid". The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession. ('s_New_Clothes)

This short tale reveals to us almost all we need to know about insight.  The intelligence to see clearly into situations is often not the problem.  But confounded by tradition, inhibitions, and fears we constrain ourselves.  Consciously or unconsciously, we shackle our perceptions.  When we consider men like Luther who shook the world, we find that intelligence contributed to their insight, but no less did courage, passion, and belief.  It is a major mistake to think of insight as primarily intellectual and a product of IQ rather than the result of innocence (to full consequences), humility (before facts), and the (uncalculated) candor of a child.  The next time you meet someone who you feel displays insight, note if they do not have a childlike quality—a sense in which they have refused to “grow up and calculatingly toe the party line.”

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