An accidental collision in the Target parking lot introduced me to a young woman. I was at fault, and admitted it; we exchanged contact information, then departed. ‘Nuff said? Oh, no. A few days later I received an email chock full of her instructions, couched not in sympathetic terms, more like a lecture from a study hall monitor.
I should have checked behind myself more closely, could have asked if she’d been injured, surely would have been in trouble with the police had she reported the incident. Although relieved she hadn’t accompanied the tirade with an abundance of swear words (“fuck” being the operative term for anyone under the age of 45), amid my irritation at her gall, I wondered when the standard operating procedure has appointed every person with an opinion as an expert compelled to tell all and sundry what they’re doing wrong.*
Whether it’s the food we eat, our personal care habits, or our politics, someone is sure to tell us we’re headed for disaster. The role of judge used to be reserved primarily to parents, clergy, military superiors, and, of course, judges. Now everyone’s an authority and ever-vigilant to deliver advice, whether requested or not.
One person points out the extreme dangers I’m courting when I drink an artificially sweetened soda. Another lists the impacts of GMOs on my health. My granddaughter knows I should be using special lotions for face, body, hands, and feet, and tells me so. My 4-year-old grandson shouts direction about how I should be driving and parking. On television a cacophony of ads bark the advantages of various health treatments, often in conflict with each other, which they warn against. In a meeting to plan an event, each person argues for a different agenda, speaker, budget. On a larger level, the same scenario plays out over issues such as oil development, political parties, even religion. Everyone is absolutely right at the same time totally wrong.
Is this simply the way we now function? Some believe Americans are so self-confident, they may feel they’re all-knowing and always correct. That’s not the point. To quote Isaac Asimov, “People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.” Know-it-alls are irritating and rude. I can overlook that in my friends, who have positive qualities and are speaking with the enthusiasm of religious converts dedicating to educating me. Not from a woman in a parking lot one-third my age and experience with not a glint of information about my qualities and state of mind. Not from the supporter of a candidate who believes he can solve problems I don’t even agree are problems.
Truth is, no omnipotent judge sits in the bar across from Loudmouth and me who’ll select the winner in a drunken debate. No absolute rights and wrongs in this game of life. Coming from a contentious family in which every member has more strong opinions and inclination to argue than sense or good will, I had to fight my natural inclinations before I stumbled on a new perspective about opinions. The more you talk, the less you’re listening. The more you lecture, the less you’re assimilating. While a lively debate can be fun, rarely does progress occur.
I’ve discovered I can shorten the amount of time wasted in futile conversations, lower my own blood pressure, perhaps even learn something if I shut up. Plus I can then feel morally superior to my opponent. I like to think I’m helping improve the general tenor of society.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Socrates.