Know-it-all Syndrome

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.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug. ‘Cuz it has cooler tastes in music than you.

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.

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Don’t Apologize & Never Say Sorry

I cringe when people apologize to me. Exchanging guilt and forgiveness is one of the most awkward human experiences, in my opinion. When a scared dog is on its back pissing itself, I’m not feeling like the sadistic alpha with all the power. Instead I’m thinking, “Oh, no, jesus, there is urine everywhere.” There’s something insane about the idea that I should barter my shame for an ounce of redemption, when I honestly think most people don’t even want my shame. I mean, they want to hear about it, but they don’t want it specifically vomited in their direction like some sort of unanswerable question.

Think about it. Any time someone has told you in so many words, “I’m sorry, I’m terrible, I’m a worthless person,” you just wanted them to shut up. Are they trying to get you to comfort them? When did you sign up for this? You were so over that thing they did so long ago that you forgot it was even a thing.

At some point in my life, I just stopped saying sorry. Repercussions? Zero. I think people like me better for it. “That lady is kinda mean but I think I like her.” I am a whirling force of fun. Some calamity is inevitable. I make it clear I intend no malice, and the impressions of my misdeeds fall away like fat off a spit-roast. Besides, I pay for most of my sins automatically, foremost in nasty hangovers. And, you know, I get the strep of death.

I really think nobody cares that I almost never apologize. No one is keeping track. Nobody notices what you’re doing, until you do it eleventeen times and they finally realize you are a writer because you like, have a blog…

Guilt feels like a wasteful emotion. I know if I wrong someone bad enough, begging for their forgiveness isn’t going to magically make them happy with me again. If I can’t fix things, or time can’t fix things, or if their achy breaky heart just don’t understand….then they’re kind of a lost cause to me. Feeling guilty is all that’s left and is really my own problem, a problem that I choose to not have.

Just saying sorry is totally different than owning your mistakes. I still do this on the regular. “I totally thought your drink was my drink, and I drank all of it.” You should see the relief on people’s faces when the source of their woe is a real human person and not malicious, drink-stealing mystery gnomes. People only like good mysteries, as in, “Sami is being mysterious, maybe she’s fantasizing about me being naked with her. Maybe she is writing this as a secret message directly to me because she thinks I’m super great. Naked. Great when naked, specifically. Ok maybe in general, also.”  People hate bad mysteries, as in, “Is that vomit on the floor, or just rice pudding?” When you can fill people in on the mistake or bad decision that negatively affected them, they are usually relieved that the puzzle is solved. Oh, that’s Susan’s vomit on the floor? Susan better clean that up.

Or, of course, there’s the scenario when you know somebody is guilty and you’re sure they’ll never confess. Suddenly you’re relieved when Susan says, “I did it. I threw up on the floor.” And you had worked out an intricate yet stressful plan to expose her to everyone at the party for the secretive puke monster you assumed her to be…

So, yeah, if I screw up I will do the opposite of try to hide it. Bonus, if I shout my mistakes to the world they are more receptive to my bragging. “I know Sami said she is a badass who orders bacon on her vegetarian sandwiches, but I am more likely to believe it because she also admitted she sucks at Pinterest. Haha, Pinterest is so easy she must be an idiot be a well-rounded individual who is totally dumb at some things and totally awesome at other things.”

Other people have not gotten on my anti-apology train. For long-time friends who make a habit out of saying sorry for everything, I just let my eyes glaze over and pretend it didn’t happen. Or, if they know me well enough, I tell them, ENOUGH WITH YOUR PARANOID GROVELLING. Prospective friends get a brief on my feelings on the subject. Most do well and quit telling me they’re sorry they said this thing or the other when my reaction isn’t immediate sugary approval.

BUT, once in awhile, from the leftest field of whackadoodle, I get an “expired apology.” That’s what prompted this rant, btw. An expired apology is one that is so old in respect to its crime that it’s completely missed its window and should stay in a deep basement to rot with the rest of your baggage. Seriously, it would make the recipient way happier if you just felt bad about yourself the rest of your life rather than bother them by digging up that musty dirt clod…

This particular musty dirt clod was an ex-boyfriend. He preempted his apology by saying, ‘I know this is too little too late.’ IF HE KNEW THAT WAS TRUE, THEN WHY BOTHER? He wrote to me what, if I based my knowledge on the serial-dater that I once knew, I could only assume came from an apology form letter that he sent to all 20 of his exes. Hint: if your apology contains the words, “I fucked up and there’s no excuse or explanation that can make up for it…” you are not revealing a mature knowledge of your mistakes and their consequences. You’re just pissing yourself.

I planned to contemplate why he might be contacting me 5+ years after our brief and ridiculous relationship to solicit forgiveness. I really don’t assume that he gave me a form letter – I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are being sincere, and I bet he wrote up a stale-apology just for me. I was going to try to offer him some solace, tell him I was crazy back then anyway and it’s not a big deal.

But I didn’t do that. Maybe apologies confuse and irritate me or maybe I’m just a big meanie but I definitely did not react the way he hoped when he sent me his plea for a pardon. I’ll share my first paragraph:

Come on, we dated for 2 or 3 months. If you really think the damage to my pride via you lasted more than a couple weeks, you’re insane. Sure, when people are exchanging dating horror stories, I do tell them about the immature and idiotic way in which you ended our relationship.* I hope you’ve learned not to date anyone when you are literally too broke to afford to dump a woman over coffee like an adult.

Or I could just be bitter because I thought I was in control and so out of his league like I was his Charlie Nicholson, but he dumped me.

I have had apologies come from the deep past and work. The key, it seems, is when the ex-boyfriend first attempts a conversation with me. A conversation without motive. This ex was my high-school beau, whom I dated for a long freaking time. We ended up in a class together in college, and I decided to reward his uneasy wave and smile by taking the seat next to him. I wanted to be an adult, too.

We chatted at each lecture, both very aware that he had been awful to me (that is, more awful than teenagers are to each other by default) but wanting to be civil. After all, we’d spent a good chunk of our lives together and it seemed silly to not try to be friends, or to not, at least, try to learn from each other. Eventually, the apology came. He hinted at some horrifying moment in our past, and stopped. He said, “I understand now that I was a complete asshole to you. I’m really sorry.” Now that, that was a professional apology. He was owning his mistake, when it was relevant, and not making it more or less than it needed to be with platitudes or drivel. He wasn’t saying it because he wanted my forgiveness, he wasn’t saying it for closure, he didn’t have aims to say it in the first place. The moment came for it, he took it, and I do feel a lot better hearing it.

An apology is meaningless when you ask it for yourself, when it is presented without context, when it is premeditated and rehearsed, when it is meant to heal your own shame. But if you’re ever given the chance to tell someone, honestly and without personal gain, that you’ve made a mistake, take it. Strangely enough, I think that’s the moment you’re most likely to receive forgiveness.


*He dumped me over the phone because he didn’t have enough gas money to meet me. This, after spending the night at my place the evening before. Poor planning, really.