Epiphanies: The Dogbert Dismissal



by Luke Setzer

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about epiphanies. Traditionally, an "epiphany" has possessed religious connotations of "divine inspiration", but according to the American Heritage Dictionary, it also means "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something." In that sense, persons adhering to all sorts of belief systems can experience this instant flash of insight.

For many years, I let myself get sucked into arguments that consumed my precious time and emotional energy. Despite reading various books like Suzette Hayden Elgin’s THE GENTLE ART OF VERBAL SELF-DEFENSE, I still had difficulty adjusting my attitude to deal properly with obnoxious people. At last, on July 27, 1996, Scott Adams’ "Dilbert" comic strip offered me an unforgettable epiphany. Those who read this hilarious daily funny already know Dogbert’s nonchalant disregard for others, and this particular three-frame mini-story absolutely exemplifies it. The brief dialogue went like this:

DOGBERT: "From now on, I will not try to reason with the idiots I encounter. I will dismiss them by waving my paw and saying, 'Bah.'"

DILBERT: "Just because someone thinks differently from you doesn't mean he's an idiot, Dogbert."

DOGBERT: (waving paw) "Bah."

After I picked myself up off the floor and recovered from my belly full of laughter, I promptly copied the strip and placed it in plain view over my desk. Later, I built the attitude into my own explicit values system during my Franklin Covey Seven Habits Training Seminar.  The exact words are: "I do not suffer fools gladly; instead, I dismiss their false, arbitrary, or irrelevant assertions with a wave of my hand and a hearty 'Bah!', thus optimizing the use of my most precious commodity, time, the stuff of which my life is made."

This epiphany has made all the difference in the quality of my life. I finally realized that many, or perhaps even most, people will NEVER be persuaded to see things my way, and that it really is not necessary that they do so.

Back when I first got onto the Internet in 1995, I participated in several on-line discussion groups that included people from a broad range of worldviews. I used to jump right into the foray, advancing my opinions with substantial ferocity. Of course, some folks cannot be swayed by hard facts, no matter how logically they are presented. Those persons, in my experience, tend to be the ones most intent on wasting the time and energy of rational people. If you let them, the irrational will gladly turn themselves into the moral equivalent of blood-sucking leeches, draining you of precious resources like time and emotional energy that could be better spent on productive activities.

What is your alternative? More often than not, you can simply dismiss them with a wave of your hand and a hearty "Bah!".

Let’s say that you are a man who intends to participate in your buddy's bachelor party.  Your wife does not mind because you have earned her trust. A social acquaintance overhears your plans and informs you of her "disappointment" in you for participating in this "debauchery". At this point, you have at least three options:

  1. Become 100% defensive and get sucked into a time- and energy-consuming argument that could end with no winners.
  2. Wimpishly cave into her demands and go home pouting.
  3. Dismiss her arguments by waving your hand and saying, "Bah!"

I advocate applying the last option as much as possible. If you go with Option 1, you have no guarantee of persuading her to your point of view, and whether you did or did not, it should make no difference in your well thought-out choice of activities. If you go with Option 2, your self-respect will rapidly diminish, since you will have built your actions around the "opinions" of others rather than upon sound principles. By using Option 3, you demonstrate that other people’s "opinions" pale in comparison to your own agenda, that you are confident in that agenda, and that you really do not care about their opinions one way or the other. This is likely to discourage attackers from future confrontations, since they will know that such attacks produce no desired results.

Obviously, this method has its limits and cannot be universally implemented. Dismissing your boss in this fashion could lead you to the unemployment line. Nevertheless, the discovery and application of this newfound strategy has served me so well in the management of my time and emotions these last few years that I wanted to share it with others.


Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101