Close your eyes and imagine Donald Trump. I know, for some of you I ruined your day already. But just try. I promise it won’t hurt too much. And stop scrunching your face as though your mother just told you to eat your brussel sprouts.
Imagine Donald Trump in his Trumpiest glory. Spouting off about armies of Mexican rapists. Ranting against the “Fake news media” anytime they report him in an unfavorable light. Calling people names whenever they disagree with him. Giving one of his typical speeches about how right and glorious he is and how wrong and pig-headed anyone who thinks otherwise must be. Referring to himself in the third person. Slapping his name on everything until we’re forced to say Trump more often than the word “the.” Praising dictators and getting lovey-dovey with tyrants. The over-the-top narcissism that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear was just a caricature, because nobody could ever possibly be that self-absorbed. You know, the Donald we’ve all come to know and, uh-hmm, ‘love.’
Now I want you to envision a news conference that probably won’t ever happen: Imagine Donald Trump came to the podium and poured his heart out in front of the camera. Instead of acting righteous and confident and full of himself, he actually made himself vulnerable. He admitted that he doesn’t actually know it all. Confessed that he often doesn’t choose his words correctly. Admitted that he’s often insecure. That the reason he so frequently attacks others is because he feels like he’s constantly being attacked himself, or that he’s spent his life living in the family’s shadow, feeling as though he has to live up to the name. What if he admitted that he’s just winging his way through life like the rest of us, doing the best he can, and begged our mercy to cut him some slack.
Tell me: Which Donald Trump do you like better? The blow-hard or the vulnerable human version? Or perhaps more to the point, which one tends to evoke your compassion, and which is more inclined to provoke your hostility and aggression?
Most people would, hands-down, prefer the latter version of the Donald, especially when it comes to someone you’d want as a friend. We may be fascinated by narcissists in the abstract, but aren’t so keen on dealing with them in reality. Moreover, when it comes to provoking the nobler emotions in others – love, compassion, mercy, a desire to protect, and so forth – the Donald with a lower case d wins out every time. Studies repeatedly show that humility and vulnerability is more likely to promote favorable opinions and the affection and good will of others. Confidence and bravado provoke a certain type of harshness in others. Our meeker expressions bring out their softer side.
This means that when it comes to the type of treatment we desire from others – kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, affection – it isn’t confidence that wins people over but the willingness to expose our more vulnerable side.
Unfortunately, our instincts often lead us to do precisely the opposite. We’re afraid to make ourselves vulnerable for fear that others might exploit our weakness, and there’s certainly a bit of truth to this in our oh-so-judgy world. We dawn our exterior in a façade of armor, pretending to be tougher and more invincible than we really are. We’re reluctant to admit when we’re wrong, as if being a fallible human being were the most horrible thing in the world to be. We work overtime to try and portray an unbridled image of confidence and success. Hmm….does this description remind you of anybody?
For as much as many people like to say they can’t stand Donald Trump, we’re sure inclined to emulate him a lot when it comes to our personal lives. In social media, we try to act like Trump. We work hard trying to curate an image of complete success, photoshopping our idealized self and presenting it to the rest of the world. We name drop and build our “brand” and openly engage in narcissistic pursuits.
We act like Trump when it comes to dealing with others. We’re generally more interested in winning an argument than learning something new from somebody else’s perspective. We’re stubborn in our ways and quick to judgment. We jockey to establish superiority; to put ourselves up on others.
Our inner Trump comes out in our work life. We self-promote, gripe on our coworkers, and engage in a relentless pursuit to get ahead. The same goes for our academic pursuits. “Winning,” we are told, is how one leads a successful life.
But what if this philosophy is precisely what’s wrong in our lives? What if the key to social success and happiness were to do just the opposite, and humble ourselves while exposing our vulnerability? Social science seems to suggest as much. We could even start by giving that former character in the White House a break.
Just a thought. If it doesn’t work out, you can always revert back to that I, I, I, me, me, me, me, winning! philosophy that most of us have been drawn into. Just don’t forget whose company that puts you in.