A gem of an essay at Aeon:
‘Impostor syndrome’ describes a problem I don’t especially wish to solve. Its remedy is to recognise that one does in fact belong. Yet I can’t convince myself I want to fully belong – indeed, I would experience belonging as a loss. The reasons for this are several, though all converge on a conviction that being ill-adapted has a value I would not forfeit.
Lately, academia has grown more sensitive to how its culture flattens and normalises those who populate its ranks. Impostor syndrome is a way of explaining how non-standard identities can provoke alienation. Class is one such structure of exclusion, alongside race, gender, sexual identity and disability. But what are the epistemic costs of ‘fitting’? If we look only at alienation, we ignore the ways in which that subtly enforced sameness diminishes understanding.
In his exquisite poem ‘Digging’ (1966), Seamus Heaney observes his own descent from men who laboured. Of his father digging potatoes, he writes:
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
Against this raw strength, Heaney registers with melancholy humility: ‘I’ve no spade to follow men like them’ and the poem concludes:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
The poem’s beauty is its ambivalence, its reluctance to mark a generational shift from spade to pen as unambiguous progress. I long to wield both, and rue how often academic life would strip spades from those who have them. And that, more than anything else, is what I suspect betrays me as an impostor, though not in the anxious, normalised way.
Impostor syndrome rides on the perception, most fundamentally, that one is getting away with something. I struggle to grasp just why this sleight-of-hand ought be counted a bad thing. I sometimes still feel a fraud in academic environments, but neither do I mind it much. Indeed, taking a little pleasure in getting away with things is something I come by honestly – a family legacy, if you will.
None of my academic bona fides reassure me more than counting myself a squatter
(Amy Olberding, How useful is ‘impostor syndrome’ in academia?, Aeon Essays)
Did you ever feel like an imposter in Church?
“The Rooted Faith in Wendell Berry’s Fiction.” Jack Baker and I write about how Berry’s exemplary characters root themselves in order to bring healing to damaged places:
Berry describes himself as a “marginal” Christian, and his position on the outskirts of our dominant, consumerist culture makes his a voice from the wilderness—one many evangelicals with more orthodox theology might do well to consider. Perhaps the greatest threat to the church today isn’t falling for doctrinal heresy but implicitly adopting the consumerist, self-centered assumptions of our Western culture. It’s all too easy for American Christians to assent to the right doctrines on Sunday while inhabiting a counter-Christian economy the rest of the week, loving ourselves more than God and neighbor.
(Jeffrey Bilbro, for whom also a tip of the hat for pointing me to Amy Olberding’s essay)
* * * * *
It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.
A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.
(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.