Curb our urge to show how much better we know

Curb our urge to show how much better we know

I’m sitting at a table in a community center for seniors and I’m engaging with a 92-year-old man who tells me, “I only have 30% hearing, so speak up.”

It’s not a problem, I say to myself, because God gave me a loud voice and now I’m going to use it. He immediately uses his voice to ask me if I’m looking forward to 2023. As I think this, he answers his own question. “I am! You know why? In January there will be political changes and a lot of news.”

I think we picked the wrong table for a relaxing lunch, but “for a penny, for a pound,” I heard him talk about Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Congress and more. He may be the poster child for “knowing best,” that person who always knows more and better than anyone else around him. As he pontificates about 2023, I’m tempted to interrupt, but my parents taught me better, so I wait until he runs out of steam.

I’m tempted to say that the midterm results were mixed and that the Republicans won’t be running the country. When I finally speak, I suggest we don’t talk about politics. What I didn’t add was my disdain for the “know-it-alls”, who seem to be everywhere. That would require explaining my own coined term and he probably wouldn’t have heard me.

Those who know better are one of my biggest obstacles in talking to people. They believe they know better about all sorts of things. I confess that I sometimes wear that cloak. Are you on the hunt for a dog? I can help with your breed selection. Want a good book? Tell me your tastes and I’ll point you in a direction. Need a streaming choice? I am aware of this as well. For random topics like books or movies, those who know better don’t bother me. They may be wrong, but the topics are of less consequence.

But it’s the other topics that are challenging, where those who know better don’t hold their breath as they explain politics, climate change, social media and other weighty issues. Their safety can worry even the most polite of us. There is no recognition of what we don’t know or even that there are different ways to interpret the data.

Sometimes we have to catch ourselves on topics we didn’t know we had strong views on. Recently I was discussing different parenting styles. Is it better to rule with a strong hand to help children understand their limits or to empower children to discover their own limits?

If a child pushes another child aside to go to the slide, do we say, “No pushing! You have to wait your turn”? Or do we say, “As long as the pushed child doesn’t get hurt, we should let Jane discover that her behavior brings bad news”?

Attitudes have changed about the best approach, which I saw when training my dogs. I trained two dogs in 11 years. With the first dog, I was told to put the dog down if he browsed the counters and scare the dogs away from him by yelling, “No.” It worked, and we had a beautiful dog.

The second dog? We had to avoid sounding harsh and instead help the dog build self-esteem. He had to discover the right way to behave as we shepherded him along with positivity. He is also beautiful, but in a different way.

Dogs, children, new approaches, old approaches. … We know what we know and share our beliefs.

But isn’t there a better way? What if we explored the topic instead of trying to find the answer? What if we parked our best tendencies?

For example, in the theme of Dry January, where people abstain from drinking alcohol, “exploring” might mean wondering how it started and its long-term effect. If someone knowledgeable were to join the conversation, they might add that about a third of American adults participated in Dry January in 2022, and participation is now international. This is helpful and not overwhelming.

Now comes the one who knows better who inadvertently interrupts the conversation. He cites current rates of alcoholism, the possible use of opiate blockers to curb addiction, and the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous, somewhere between 25% and 50%.

Filled with this information, we have lost the thread of the conversation. A smart person with a load of statistics has overcome the environment.

Can we put “exploration” back on our list of how we engage in 2023?

Be careful: There is a better way.

Jill Ebstein is the editor of the At My Pace book series and founder of Sized Right Marketing, a consulting firm. She wrote this for

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