THE OBNOXIOUS EXPERT
Most people would deny being a know-it-all, but the truth is that few are exempt from the occasional fall to this weakness. Knowledge is not the weakness. Individuals can know a lot of information, perhaps even close to all the knowledge of some topics, but being an expert in one or many fields does not make people know-it-alls. Know-it-alls are obnoxious experts, people who arrogantly assume they know all about a topic, whether or not they actually do, remain inconsiderate and unyielding to other possibilities, and flaunt their knowledge at the expense of others’ feelings. Such people are often difficult to connect with, cannot be taught, and are usually accompanied by a condescending attitude. Average individuals rarely want to listen to or socialize with these types of people, even when they may be right in their views and opinions, simply because of their patronizing mannerisms. Part of being human is being fallible. The inability to recognize this imperfection hinders individuals’ capabilities for learning, and can be destructive in relationships for various reasons. With this in mind, people should make every effort to be open to all viewpoints, even those with which they disagree because tolerance is a much more sophisticated way of thinking than narrow-minded intolerance.
When thinking of a narrow-minded individual, most think of particular people in their lives. Knowing my husband’s step-father, John, might demonstrate to others how having closed opinions to many ideas outside of their own is a terrible way to live a life. Recently, when the mother of my mother-in-law died, John felt that he knew exactly how the funeral arrangements should be handled. Not only that, but he also felt that he had the right to say that my mother-in-law would not be contributing any funds to help pay for expenses because the funeral was not handled as he said it should be. John may have had some valid arguments, but his delivery was flawed, and created unnecessary friction in an already difficult circumstance. Sadly, this is just one illustration of John’s narrow-minded temperament. My mother-in-law and John used to attend church with us several years ago, and when John disagreed with issues that happened in the church, they left. When my husband Chad and I refused to attend the “Church of John,” we received verbal abuse in a meeting at their kitchen table where we were labeled willfully disrespectful as they attempted to “straighten us out.” Since then, they have attended several churches for short periods of time, usually until someone does not believe John’s way. Now they get dressed for church in their living room on Sunday mornings; total attendance is two, and there is no one to disagree with them. Even as far back as eighteen years ago when John first became Chad’s step-father, John would assert that he was the one who “raised” Chad although Chad was already out on his own by the time his mother married John. John may not have meant his claim to sound arrogant, but that was the message conveyed. This, of course, alienated Chad, and he has never been able to view John as anyone more significant in his life than his mother’s second husband. Naturally, John has been deeply offended by this snub, and is unable to understand why this slight has occurred.
This failure to understand the feelings of others demonstrates a flaw in the character of the individuals who choose to remain close-minded; it is nearly impossible to gain appreciation for any topic if people think they already have all the answers. This argument does not mean there are no experts because certainly some have been trained or have years of experience in various situations. However, people have a greater chance of learning new ideas if they remain open to the possibility that no matter how much training they have there is always more to know about a subject. Teachers are perfect examples of this refined way of thinking in action. If instructors already knew all the answers, there would be no need for annual training days to update them on any new information and teaching styles, and continuing education would be ultimately useless. Without continuing their education, educators would learn very little, even though there are always new ideas about instructional techniques, use of technology, how people learn, and of course every subject area imaginable. Having additional training requirements does not mean that teachers know nothing about helping children learn; it simply means they have the potential to obtain greater knowledge. All people have this potential if they are simply receptive to the possibilities of open-mindedness.
Open-minded consideration of controversial ideas is not indicative of a lack of opinions or being easily swayed from the beliefs that make individuals who they are. Sophisticated thinkers, such as Wayne Riggs, an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department of the University of Oklahoma, contend that thoughtful consideration of opposing viewpoints indicates a willingness to seriously consider all sides (177). Most would agree that this consideration of all sides does not imply an absence of convictions, but rather that those individuals’ opinions are accompanied by the awareness of their own fallibility, and an ability to handle disagreements with maturity and respect for others. Riggs also references Jonathan Adler in his article “Open-Mindedness,” both saying in essence that being human makes it highly possible that some of our core beliefs and opinions could be incorrect. Careful evaluation of opposing views could be a way to eliminate, decrease, or diminish the impact of false beliefs that individuals possess (Riggs 181). On the other hand, opinions and views that have a solid foundation will remain stable under careful inspection, and can even be strengthened by open-mindedness. In either case, mature individuals should have the humility to recognize when they are wrong and change their views accordingly, or maintain their opinions with dignity and respect for the feelings of others when their positions are revealed to be correct. As a child through early adulthood, I attended a church that taught the use of make-up and jewelry would doom the offender to eternal punishment. For years, I took the claim at face value and followed the “rules,” even affirming these beliefs to others if asked. When I matured enough to realize that “because they said so” is a terrible foundation for beliefs with eternal significance, and began to dig a little deeper into that assertion, I discovered it was not make-up, jewelry, or any other surface-level issues, that should be emphasized. Had I been close-minded and refused to closely inspect any view other than my own, I would still be blindly supporting a belief that may not have been entirely accurate. Instead, I was able to change my position on the matter and understand that the focus should be placed on weightier matters such as integrity, attitude, moderation, kindness, and other similar virtues.
These weightier matters that should be highlighted are negatively affected if people are unable to be mature and considerate when analyzing the views and opinions of others. Often, when individuals refuse to recognize the value of any point of view other than their own, they become harsh and judgmental instead of loving and courteous; this wreaks havoc in relationships. For example, had John treated Chad as an adult with equal respect instead of harping on him as one would treat a child, a bond of mutual appreciation might have formed, creating a more peaceful relationship throughout their following years as members of an extended family.
When John or anyone else behaves in this manner, it is easy to reciprocate by labeling them as narrow-minded and judging these people for their know-it-all attitude. However, this reaction is equally problematic because many individuals are eager to gleefully point out the narrow-mindedness of others while often forgetting their own areas of closed thinking. Sometimes being judgmental is as simple as rationalizing “what I was taught is better than the ideas of others.” When my daughter brings home math sheets and shows me how her teacher has instructed her to find the answers, the thought that “my way is better” often crosses my mind. Although my daughter’s teacher is well-trained and experienced in these new and improved methods of learning, it would be easy to throw out those new ideas because the old way has always worked for me. However, when objectively considering all angles, I often find that the new way is better, and I learn a new way to do math, as when my daughter showed me some multiplication tricks they learned in her class this year.
Knowing one way to do the math does not mean it is the only correct way, and this concept can be applied in each of these scenarios. John’s idea for the funeral of his mother-in-law might have worked, but it was not the only solution that could work. Had he handled that possibility with consideration for others’ opinions, the tensions and hard feelings may have been avoided, and they could have potentially found a compromise that would have been an even better resolution. I have friends in church circles who still hold to the eternal significance of many superficial issues. Even though I now believe that moderation instead of avoidance is the key to those superficial issues, I have found that handling our differences with as much respect and humility as possible has greatly assisted in maintaining positive relationships with these friends. In all instances, openness to other possibilities has provided opportunities to learn more than could have ever been discovered by clinging tenaciously to personal thoughts and ideas. These benefits coupled with a positive attitude are a winning combination, and all human beings should endeavor to be sophisticated thinkers the next time they find themselves becoming or associating with an obnoxious expert.
Riggs, Wayne. “Open-Mindedness.” Metaphilosophy 41.1/2 (2010): 172-188. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. .