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.