My parents raised me with intellectual curiosity and a willingness to share what I have learned. In other words, I was raised to be a know-it-all. I’m not alone, there are a lot of us out there. Some of my favorite people are know-it-alls. You really can learn a tremendous amount from them because although they certainly don’t really know it all, they often do know a heck of a lot.
Looking back on it, I think I was often pretty obnoxious. It’s possible I still am, but I hope I have learned a few things that make me easier to enjoy spending time with. Not too long ago I schooled my cousin, the one with the doctorate in animal husbandry, about the terminology regarding nesting herons. I’m still embarrassed about that one...it’s a work in progress.
Intellectual curiosity is a wonderful trait, but so easily abused. Do you find yourself reading all those non-fiction books filled with amazing and amusing tidbits of information? You may be genuinely fascinated by these tidbits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t pop out at the least provocation to edify what you hope is a rapt listening audience.
I knew my daughter and her soon-to-be husband had a good shot at living happily ever after when two things happened. The first was when they meshed their Legos. Don’t underestimate the importance of this as an indicator of trust. The second happened while I was having dinner with his family. There was a disagreement over the derivation of a word (yes, some families discuss things like words over the dinner table – mine did) and someone went straight to the dictionary to settle it. No one actually said “See, I was right.” But it was hanging over the table like the scent of garlic. If you have been raised having conversations that end in someone being ‘right’, it is really important you marry someone from a similar background. It could be more important than a common religion.
Once, when traveling, my son-in-law and I got into a bit of a know-it-all stand-off. It was awful for my daughter, being caught between the two people she loved most. It was only much later that I realized she was just really hurt that we hadn’t even considered her as the one who knew all the answers.
If you can admit you are a know-it-all, that is half the battle. Like alcohol, being right is an addiction. So here are some of the things I have learned, they may help.
1) If you are not absolutely, 100% certain, learn to start with the phrase “I really don’t know”. If you practice, you can say it with a sort of self-deprecating lilt that says you have some idea, but your intellectual honesty forbids you from coming right out with it. Then you can go on to list the things you do know for certain about the subject and come to a brilliant conclusion they’ll buy into.
2) Don’t embarrass or try to impress an expert. For one thing, if the discussion breaks down into teams, you might want to be on their side. For another, play the odds, if they are an expert they may actually be right. Let them have their area of expertise…even if they say something that you KNOW is wrong. My brother is a working musician and composer – I never question anything he says regarding music. I have been an anglomanic for 25 years and the only thing he ever questioned was the pronunciation of Evelyn Waugh’s first name – I was right, it’s a hard E.
3) This one is important after about the age of 45. What was right when you were twenty may no longer be the correct answer. Things change, science and society in particular. Look at Pluto.
4) When you are right, when the Google goes your way…don’t celebrate. Not even a little. Practice in front of a mirror, you can learn to hide even that smug smile. Your best bet is to acquire a pensive expression and say “Hmmmm.” This also works well when you are wrong.
5) The most important thing of all is to realize that there are a lot of questions which have no right answer. You must learn to recognize these when you come across them and allow the conversation to degenerate into what is known as civil discourse. Then let it go until you can get home and find the necessary information to confirm, in your own mind, that you were right. And DO NOT make that phone call.
You never get over being a know-it-all. My mother, at 96, with a seriously failing memory is still willing to mix it up over whether my aunt on my father’s side’s married name was Pinney or Penney. She has a wonderful phrase she uses whenever it is proven that she is wrong about something. She looks down a little, purses her lips a little, and says “I suppose so.” Which translated means, “I will give in because I am a poor helpless old lady and you are a bullying, ungrateful child…but I know I’m right.” No question where we got it from is there?
One last thing, when you find yourself in a stand-off situation with another know-it-all, whatever you do – do NOT roll your eyes.