Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mr. Knowitall

Correct me if I am wrong, but no one wants the label Mr. Knowitall. That’s how many of us felt about our parents who were always ramming their half-baked ideas down our throats. We swore we would never be like them. One problem with Mr. Knowitall is that we  know he is trying to impress us with his vast store of knowledge. But worse than that obnoxious trait is that he really thinks he knows it all. He has nothing left to learn. So he listens very little and pontificates often. Communication is a one-way street. Yes, shes can be knowitalls too! 

None of us likes to be wrong, especially when we are arguing with friends and relatives. But it is the essential nature of our world that we are usually wrong. Most of the valuable or interesting things are complicated if not uncertain. What is the best way to raise your child? What is the best diet for you? What is the best way to get from Bloomington, IN to Burnsville, NC? How do you eliminate poverty? How do you stop chipmunks from digging under the foundation of your house? What is the best way to stop terrorism?

The above questions are debatable. There are two or more sides to each question. While there might seem to be a best answer today to one of these questions, we know that there is no guarantee that provisional knowledge today is perfect or that what worked yesterday will work today or tomorrow. Things change and therefore so do the correct answers. Correct answers are never 100% correct and are qualified or transient depending on changing conditions.

One response is to think that there is never a correct answer and since we are always wrong, we might as well have no opinion. While that might be good for some people, another option is to accept what you think is the best answer today but keep an open mind about what might change your opinion tomorrow. We lope along over time searching for the best truths.

While that might sound overly philosophical, another way of saying all this is that most of us try to learn. We read, we talk to people, we watch television. And best of all, we argue. Argue? Are you kidding? One connotation of argument is two sweaty red-faced people with different opinions trying to win at any price. Call him names! Make fun of her parents? Associate him with a cult. Whatever you have to do, argue to win!

But argument doesn’t have to be like that. Argument can be the best thing you did that day. Argument can be the way you learn. To argue a point, you have to first become acquainted with the topic. You then put together your best argument for a specific result. You might say spanking is a good approach to child-rearing. Your adversary, if you listen to her, will explain why it isn’t the best approach. If you both really listen, you might learn some things that you overlooked. Or you might raise the importance of something you thought was unimportant. The point is that no one knows everything. 

Argument is a wonderful way for spirited people to learn more. There is nothing like a contest to make you work harder. The everyday contest of argument is what can make us stronger and more confident about what we think we know. But it can also make us more humble and willing to keep learning. 

What bothers me today is that I see very few examples of people learning from each other when it comes to the most important issues of our day. People seem quite adept at memorizing an ideological mantra. They shout it at an opponent. And when something comes out of the mouth of the opponent, they shout their mantra louder. The opponent then shouts louder still. This is one-way communication at its worst, and it leads to zero learning. 

I had the loveliest conversation with one of my children recently. And yes, JD was involved.  It was about immigration. I was so proud of both of us because we listened to each other. I think we are each better informed because we both spoke and listened. I am not sure that either one of us changed our minds considerably, but I do think the conversation opened some new doors for learning and making future decisions. I feel especially blessed to have a family composed of people who try to keep learning and do it by arguing with and listening to each other.

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