Monday, April 28, 2014

Speak up or shut up? Hmm.

Several years ago, I had a T-shirt made which read as follows:

You say INSUFFERABLE KNOW-IT-ALL like it's a bad thing
I guess it served as a sort of advance warning to the unwary: MAKE WAY FOR THE INFOMANIAC, OBSESSIVE COLLECTOR OF ALL MANNER OF USELESS TRIVIA!

Really, I'm not making an effort to be obnoxious or insufferable. It just seems to be the way I'm wired. Like many introverts, I have a tendency to read widely and to retain lots of factlets from what I read. Along with this tendency comes the desire to share information with others, based on the (perhaps na├»ve) assumption that other people will possess just as much interest in trivia as I do.

Mmm, not s'much.

The Book of Useless Information
Let's hear it for Useless Trivia! (Yay!)
It's taken -- and is still taking -- me a long time to realize that some people are offended by these comments, especially when they're perceived as corrective, and that sometimes I should just hold my peace. About a month ago I was part of a conversation where someone repeated a widely-believed and widely-repeated urban legend. I had just been reading reference material on this very subject and knew it wasn't true, so I was sorely tempted to respond, "Actually, that's a common misconception..." but before I opened my mouth, I stopped to think: In this context, is it really necessary to correct this person? Will it contribute significantly to the conversation, or just cause feelings of annoyance? And I said nothing and let it pass. It was hard -- I REALLY wanted to say something! -- but it wouldn't have been right.

With that said, there will be times in my life when the people around me would rather not have me speak, and I will choose to open my mouth anyway. I've learned, for instance, that some (though certainly not all) people who hold postgraduate degrees are strongly biased against having their facts or opinions questioned by people who have not had the benefit of a full college education. I suppose I see the reasoning; statistically speaking, seven-plus years of specialized study ought to provide one with a wider horizon of possibilities, greater comprehension, a larger set of facts and a better ability to reason from them than the mental resources one might be likely to find in an undergrad. But I also believe lack of training doesn't equal stupidity. One of the most intelligent, well-read and imaginative people I've ever met was a man who only had a high school diploma to his credit. His voice, and his thoughts, were well worth hearing. I believe in letting people participate, regardless of their education level; if their ideas are truly inferior, well, let them be heard anyway and give them enough rope to hang themselves with.

I've seen the way this bias operates firsthand. There have been and likely will continue to be times in my life when my ideas are undervalued or cast aside, when I'm cut off or sneered at, and when I'm passed over for job consideration, solely because I have not yet graduated from college. At some point I'd like to achieve that goal; I soak up learning and would jump at the chance to get more, plus I'm the kind of person who needs to prove to myself that I can finish what I start. I know what I have in my head already is certainly insufficient. But just as fat people shouldn't be expected to go naked until they lose enough weight to fit into beautiful clothes, I'm not going to be told my native ability to think, reason and question is invalid until I've earned the right to place a B.A. after my name. And so I continue to open my mouth even in the presence of my educational betters, with the crazy supposition that I might just have something worthwhile to contribute.

Go on, call it insufferable. Like that's a bad thing.

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