the problem with expertise

No one enjoys feeling stupid.

We avoid it at all costs. We want to be seen as informed and educated to those around us. We devour news articles and binge-watch YouTue videos and when we see a movie or read a book, we’re cautious to share our opinions until we’ve confirmed with those around us that our thoughts are valid.

We’re all trying to prove that we’re experts.

I saw Austin Kleon speak last week and he said something interesting when someone describes him as a guru. The problem with gurus, he said, is they’ve elevated themselves beyond the work. They’ve stopped asking questions. If you really want to learn from someone, look for the person working amidst the muck, still trying to figure things out.

It seems that with the entirety of human knowledge slotting into our pocket, we’ve all promoted ourselves to guru status. We’re all experts because we all know everything. It’s right there in our phone (or the “magic box of knowledge” as some members of my family have come to calling it.) “I read an article recently,” you’ll hear someone say just before positing a political opinion or movie review. We’re all so eager to prove that we’re experts, but in doing so, we’re also robbing ourselves of the opportunity to learn and grow.

We as a society have ascribed value to conversation. There are winners and losers. Those who are proven right in an argument win and those who change their minds lose. But I think this is really backwards. When you’re the expert or the winner of the argument, you don’t grow. You don’t change. You don’t learn anything.

When you don’t know something, you have the opportunity to expand yourself. Changing your mind can actually change your life.

There’s the old saying that goes something like, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t.” And I think this is truer than ever. If we really know anything, we’d all recognize how much we don’t actually know.

This isn’t me granting permission to dismiss science or logic or anything like that, because, let’s be honest, that’s what got us into this whole mess in the first place. All I’m saying is, what would happen if we set aside our egos long enough to consider that our beliefs, our opinions, our worldviews, aren’t the definitive truth. What would happen if we let ourselves be wrong?

Maybe we’d all grow. Maybe we’d all learn more. Maybe we’d all speak less and listen more. Maybe we’d find we’re capable of more than we ever anticipated.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be wrong more often…

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