Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Proper Care and Feeding of Know-It-Alls

Your guide to understanding and embracing the know-it-alls in your midst.

Mike and I are know-it-alls. Today at church, the pastor was talking about some Greek translation or other, and Mike leans over to whisper some obscure fact in my ear. Not to be outdone, I lean over the next minute to share my own bit of minutae. Loving the last word, Mike shoots back more trivia. We are the epitome of insufferable know-it-alls. Luckily, we married one another, and so we have a certain amount of tolerance, nay, relish for our useless knowledge.

Others are not so lucky and didn't sign up for the healthy dose of information you may get in the presence of a know-it-all. At Bible study, I tend to play the role of Hermione, just hopping in my seat to share my pearls of wisdom. Mike, on the other hand, just last week bored, I mean, entertained the group with all they ever needed to know about shooting pistol shrimps.

You may think we are simply annoying and pretentious and boring. But I hope this post will help you to understand and love the know-it-alls around you.

There are two distinct types of know-it-alls: specialists and general practitioners. I am a specialist know-it-all. I can blend into a crowd fairly well, unless a topic I particularly care and know about comes up, like language or culture or the Bible, and then I'll make a general nuisance of myself. General practitioner know-it-alls are those like my husband who make it their business to know everything about everything.

Your first instinct upon encountering a know-it-all may be to assume that she is desperate for attention and affirmation. You may be right. After all, we all as humans are longing for love and affirmation and appreciation. Us know-it-alls just attempt it in our own unique way. We were never admired for our physical prowess or desired for our great looks or flocked to for our social skills. We used what we got, our brains. We might not have had muscles or curves or popularity. But we still wanted to be liked. Or at least admired.

This trait can either repel you or invoke your empathy. When I see a pretty girl ridiculously batting her eyes and mooning for attention, I can either disdain her as pathetic or empathize with her as a human being simply thirsting for love. When you see a know-it-all posturing with his flawless knowledge of Vulcan etymology, you can choose not to be repelled by his absurdity, but empathetic, aware of your common need for acceptance.

But not all know-it-all-edness is posturing for attention. Much of it is simply that we love knowledge, the very definition of philosophy. Being married to Mike, I have realized that he is simply a collector. My aunt collects stray dogs. My dad collects coins. Mike collects information. If we are driving home in the car and I say, "Gee, turtles are cool!", Mike will come home and read every internet article available on turtles and subsequently inform me (and most likely our entire small group) about the breeding habits of the rare turnip turtle of Borneo. (It's amazing to live in the internet age as a know-it-all.)

Unfortunately, not everyone cares as much about the turnip turtle of Borneo as Mike does. But we listen out of grace and patience and love of his cute blonde hair. It's much the same as how I try to listen interestedly when boys talk to me about cars or sports. There is no conceivable way I could care any less about cars or the Nuggets than I currently do. So when some car-boy starts talking about his motorcycle or the score last night, I try as hard as I can to squeeze interest into my countenance. Us know-it-alls are fascinated by information just as car-boys are fascinated by cars...We're just dorkier.

But the heart of the matter is that know-it-alls have a profound love of truths. We treasure them and roll them around in our mouths like a sommalier might swish wine. Our fault can be that we value the small truths for their own sake, rather than for the larger Truth that they point toward. But our fascination with the truth lies in that we have had a glimpse of the beauty of the deep things of the universe and thirst for more.

A Note to the Know-It-Alls
The struggle of a know-it-all is to keep our love of knowledge in order.

"If I...can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge...but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2)

In all things, we must question our motivation. Are we sharing what we do to selfishly seek affirmation or to pointlessly pet our knowledge? Or are we sharing in order to encourage, challenge or comfort others? Knowledge without love is nothing. Unless sharing knowledge is founded in, motivated and guided by love, then we are just a clanging cymbal.

"Knowledge puffs up while love builds up." (1 Corinthians 8:1)

If we are focused on our knowledge, we will look as ridiculous as a puffer fish and be as useless as one in our relationships as well. But if we are focused on love, we can build up others around us, using knowledge to help others glimpse the beauty of God's truth.

*Note: Mike is currently researching all things puffer fish and has revealed to me that they are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world and their eyes move independently of one another...And now he has moved on to learn every fact about the first most poisonous vertebrate in the world.


Elizabeth M. said...

Amber, great great post! I am not nearly as smart as thee or thine, but I do tend to be puffed up about books...sometimes I insert big words into conversation to look cool, but often times I just use them and don't mean to insult. And since the rest of the time I say "like" every two seconds, I don't sound intelligent even when using a larger vocabulary :) By the way, Mike, I held a puffer fish in Mexico once. The scuba instructor grabbed the little guy and passed him around...that was pretty amazing, but I didn't know they were poisonous!!! This post was like dessert to read, you are so wonderful with words and imagery! When are you coming out with your multiple choice Christmas letter. Yours is my favorite!

Grimes said...

I love this! I am a know-it-all of the specialist type {medical stuff, anatomy, biology, earthy-birthy stuff}. Anyhoo, I love knowledge and learning{both Pete and I actually}, and I fear we can both annoy and bore those around us. I think we all could all be reminded to share for the benefit of others and the glory of Christ rather than for our glory : ) Thanks for the reminder.

Grimes said...

Oh and Liz I know nothing of books and literature so feel free to teach me a thing or two!

emily said...

Gah! It's like a mirror!

I'm definitely the info-generalist. If I get a hold of a few MacLean's (like Newsweek) magazines I'm spouting random information for weeks on end, which can make play-dates awkward ("So, is your baby sleeping through the night yet?" "Yes, but the President of Bolivia probably isn't! Ha ha, yes? Yes? oh.")

I think that the most frustrating aspect of being an information fiend is that there is NEVER enough, particularly if you're trying to use that info to solve a complex problem (silly example: after doing some research on educational methods, I have a general undertanding of Waldorf school philosophy, and I know that it's based on junk science/ mysticism, and I know that despite this children do very well in Waldorf-type schools, AND I know that some public schools in some places are adopting some parts of Waldorf curriculum, I still have no idea to what degree my local school is doing so, if at all.)

BUT. I think that you can use information to effectively show that you care about someone, like your hubby did with the turtles. My Mom sent me some links to "gratitude journals" after I'd mentioned that my older daughter tends to focus on the negative. Which shows that a) she was listening and b) she wants to help.

Tara said...

I wonder if this has anything to do with birth order---you and Mike are both the babies in the family. I love looking into these trends with the students I teach but usually all of the academic attention is placed on the oldest child and the youngest get to fend for themselves:)

I too love to quote things I have learned but it usually sounds something like this: I heard on Oprah that . . . . OR . . .I totally agree because Oprah said . . . .

Anonymous said...

HMMM-The only person who I can talk to in a movie is a certain person because he likes my information or speculation on what is going to happen next. I am usually correct on the next line to be said or what will happen next but SOME PEOPLE are annoyed. That is why Mike and Amber are married and me to that other guy-we like what they say. N.

Amber said...

Nikki, I've never heard the phrase "earthy-birthy" before, but I love it. Will start using it immediately.

Emily, you sound like you'd be great fun on a play date. I like your idea of using information to show love - like giving a gift. Maybe I'll think about how I could use this...

Tara, I do think that babies in the family (like Mike and I) have a drive to be taken seriously, and not just as silly loohoos. So we use our big boy words to say, "I'm a serious person! Don't discount me!"

Anonymous said...

I'm too lazy to know-it-all about anything. Instead I keep a handy list in my mind of who to ask about any topic that I may need to know about e.g. science - ask Mark D, computers - ask George etc.

But opinons, that's another thing all together. I have (or can make up instantly) an opinion about anything. Does that make me an opinion-it-all? lol