Know-it-all Syndrome. You know what I’m talking about. Well, generally, it’s a bit more extreme than what I’ll discuss. “Sufferers” of this disease are known to annoy everyone around them by pretending knowledge on every topic of conversation. What I’m aiming at, however, is more the general adaptation of this habit, where you nod away things that are going over your head. What’s the harm in pretending to know about something you know nothing about? You’ll just Google it later.
Recently I promised myself to stop pretending. The idea for this vow grew out of the little brown notebook I carry in my purse. I’d started writing the things people told me, as they spoke to me. I named it my memory augmentation device. (My memory is unreliable enough without the drinking.)
Something started happening. I noticed a twinkle, an edge of excitement in their voices as I wrote. They’d add more, “oh, and look up The Ben Heck Show.” I’d latched on to the idea a long time ago, from some reading, that “observation is sexy” and I realized I could show a little appreciation for someone just by writing these things down in front of them. Look, I’m listening.
This didn’t cure my know-it-all ‘syndrome’ right away. First, I must add that my case is a little unusual. Due to my delusional escapades as an alien princess, a Christian, a heterosexual… my connection to reality is a bit flimsy. I can never be sure just how far off I am when I’m confused about the order of things. Which century was pointillism? Where is the Bay of Pigs? I know the answers, I really do, but pretty much anyone can make me question myself. Hey, they didn’t spend 7 years of their childhood sharing brain-time with an extraterrestrial dignitary. They might be a little more in tune with the real world.
And look, I will never catch up with people who have been paying such close attention to 90s pop-punk that they actually know the name of the lead singer of Blink-182. (Seriously I don’t know and I don’t care.) So, I nod and pretend to know a few things about ‘culture’ and hope the subject changes soon. If a subject is truly boring to me, why slow down the trivia slinging? This I’ll allow, despite the vow. Let the nerds exchange their factoids quickly before they realize they need to educate me.
But, what I’m going to quit doing is going along with something I don’t know just to seem cool… and smart… and stuff. I kind of realized that no, just no, it doesn’t do you any good. People like being experts, they like knowing some esoteric thing about history, or science, or just some band you didn’t know existed. I’m going to let them show off that knowledge to me.
And, really, is there any shame in not knowing everything? In this information age, there is so much to know. Let’s stop trying to stay up on the same trends. Let us meander every which way, collecting data deeply, and share synopses. Let us learn this world collaboratively, and stop believing the loneliness will only go away as soon as we know exactly what our neighbor knows. Ask each other, what do you know? and stop pretending to know it, too.
An opportunity to test this theory came up immediately after I took the vow. Recently, I admitted I didn’t know what the Camino de Santiago was. I’ve been in a long conversation with a pretty pen-pal and I figure she deserves, as much as anyone, the truer me. So I confessed. I added, “Let me know if you find this endearing or you like me less for not memorizing all the same things you have memorized.”
She responded, “Now, I do find it endearing that you didn’t Google The Camino de Santiago. Although when I wrote it, I expected you would.”
What followed, in her own voice, not Wikipedia’s, is a personalized and very real description of the Way of St. James. I read it, twice.