I am a recovering know-it-all. I’ve been experimenting with saying “I don’t know” or “I was wrong.” But my know-it-all self is always tempted to add, “but it might be that” or “I have a hunch that.”
I vividly remember a know-it-all episode from a long time ago, before GPS, where my then-boyfriend and I and another couple wanted to go to an amusement park that was about an hour away. I was navigating, and I got us extremely lost. I kept insisting I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. We never got there. I blew it, by being a know-it-all.
It must have been annoying to know me then. It might still be annoying, but I’m working on getting better. I’ve been trying to work on becoming humbler.
It’s been hard recovering from the belief that I know everything. It helps for me to remember a vision from a spiritual reading. The author described her previous view of people as being on a ladder, with some people on a rung above her, and others below, and her struggling to climb the ladder and pushing people off to do that. That was me. That was how I used knowledge. But then she changed her image to an image to one everyone being in a circle, all people being equal, where she could learn from each person. I keep remembering that picture. That’s the world I want to live in.
I get the impression that I’m not the only one who is (or has been) a know-it-all. It seems everyone has an answer for how they’d like the country to be run, or the city or the town. Everyone has an opinion on the president and the Congress. It’s good to have an opinion, but nowadays, it isn’t just that we have a preference; we’ve turned the other side into idiots or the enemy.
What if we’re wrong? Or don’t know? What if the other side has a point? Can’t we learn from everyone? Or do we have to push people off the ladder?
If we want to mend our personal relationships that have been fractured by political rancor, we need to consider what we can learn from another point of view.
It’s not like anyone has created a nirvana and has no problems. I think of the “blue” cities that have high taxes, high home prices, and high rates of homelessness. And of “red” states that have low taxes but struggle to provide services. For example, Texas with the inability of the electricity grid to operate properly in extremely cold weather. The Texas way did lead to lower energy costs in the short-term, but at a long-term cost. But it’s not like red States haven’t had their own energy problems, such as California and its utility problem.
And many of the problems we’re dealing with are what have been termed “wicked problems.” We aren’t dealing with tame problems that can be solved with standard methods. Instead, we’re trying to solve problems like world hunger that don’t have an obvious solution — one where we have to invent new ways. Here’s a summary where you can read about the idea of wicked problems and why they’re so hard.
Diversity of thought may help bring us closer to solutions to wicked problems. Research about group dynamics has found that having a diverse set of people in a problem-solving group means that the group develops better solutions. It’s uncomfortable (because people like being with people just like them who don’t challenge their thinking), but it’s more productive to have people who don’t think alike in a group.
Finally, let’s think about Jung’s concept of paradoxical truth, which “holds the tension of opposites and thus fosters movement, growth and change.” The author Gretchen Rubin has captured the value of paradoxical thinking when she says the opposite of a truth is often also true.
When we avoid people because we don’t want to get into an argument, we lose the opportunity to learn from them. We should welcome the disagreement, so we can learn and grow. That’s what the tools I talk about in this newsletter are intended to help you do — to find a way to talk to those you don’t agree with, in a respectful and useful way.
As part of my recovery from being a know-it-all, I’ve moved to trying to learn from experts and to use my knowledge to be helpful to people — if they want it. That’s my move toward humility. That’s what this newsletter and my books are all about. They are opt-in, I don’t push them on anyone. But I hope to be helpful. If you haven’t already subscribed to this newsletter, please do, and join my Facebook group, Persuade, Don’t Preach, where we can discuss these issues privately and support each other on this journey.